A young woman living in a college town in the early 1990s learns about life, love, and ancient Greek philosophy in this episodic, often comic tale.
Giuffre’s first novel is set in the not-so-distant past: “This was in the days when nighttime used to mean something,” reads the first line of the first chapter. Quickly, it establishes the setting, a small college town in the Southern United States called Waterville, and tips its hat that bars will play a significant role in the events that follow. Giuffre’s academic work has focused on social networks, and that focus on communities is reflected here: through the eyes of narrator Josie, the reader is introduced to the employees and patrons of a couple of loosely connected local businesses. At the center is a bar called the Cave; interspersed with scenes from Josie’s life are musings on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” along with selections from Greek mythology that complement the plot. It isn’t always subtle, but Josie’s method of retelling these stories develops its own charms. There’s also a dramatic reason for it: she’s been given books on the subject by Tom, the proprietor of a bookstore in town called the Hammer and Sickle. “Commie Tom was sincerely concerned about the inconvenience he was inadvertently causing to people who were trying to buy hammers,” Giuffre writes in one of the novel’s more wryly funny passages. Scenes involving the community’s reaction to the Gulf War add some drama, though personifying all the villainous aspects of the group in one patron undercuts it somewhat.
With its evenhanded narrator, this low-key novel succinctly evokes the supportive dynamics of the community at its heart.