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by J. Robert Lennon

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-066-3
Publisher: Riverhead

 A debut novel in which many stories mingle in the wake of a plane crash. Marshall, Montana, is an agreeable college town. But its placidity is scarred by tragedy when AirAmerica flight 114 from Seattle plunges to the ground, apparently killing all but one passenger. Lennon uses the catastrophe as a means of linking otherwise disparate stories: those of families who have come to meet the plane, that of the lone survivor, Bernardo, and of the young couple, Paul and Anita Beveridge, who live near the crash site. The idea is promising, and the interest it garners credible, and yet the narrative lacks human and moral depth. As though trying a little too hard to include a cast varied in age, ethnicity, and experience, the author seems reluctant to choose a true emotional center. The closest he comes is in the Beveridges, whose strained marriage is indirectly pushed apart by the crash after Anita begins an affair with the uncle of a boy who died on board. But the Beveridges are relative newcomers to Marshall, and they don't really want to be there, having neither authenticity nor roots. Lennon might have done better to focus on Lars Cowgill, a midwesterner who found a home in Marshall and who's a more likable human gauge for the impact of disaster (his girlfriend Megan is among the dead). The best sections here are the glimpses of Marshall and its denizens: the ``Nouveau West'' knotty-pine decor at the small airport; the flyaway punk charm of Alyssa, a high- school student at loose ends who is briefly present in the novel; Lars's helplessly romantic slacker friend Toth, persuasively lost in post-adolescent muddle; and the streets, bowling alleys, and convenience stores of this quiet town. A sharp portrait of a place, but too often diluted by a scattered and uncertain plot and people.