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by Lauren Wolk

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44849-7
Publisher: Random House

Nice Lake Woebegon—like folks have to deal with a Stephen King predicament—an underground fire is destroying their town—in a schematic tale of love, loyalty, and the ties that bind (too tightly). Belle Haven, a small Pennsylvania town built over an old coal mine, is the setting for the leisurely love story that unfolds as a fire in the mine intensifies, eventually forcing evacuation of the people who live there. This is a place where everyone’s nice: people like single mom Angela, for instance, who’s a great cook and runs the local diner; her son Rusty, who’s as nice as can be; and Ed, the generous hardware-store owner. It’s people like these who drive young Rachel Hearn to try to come to the town’s rescue—yet Joe Barrows, a stranger who falls in love with Rachel, is able to view the situation with more clarity. Their relationship begins after both have run away from bad situations. Dutiful daughter Rachel has gone to college and savored freedom, but chooses to return home for good after her parents die in an accident, a love affair ends, and a friend betrays her. When Joe, a wealthy, indulged Yale junior, learns from twin sister Holly that their father abused her, drove their mother to suicide, and lied to Joe about the cause of Holly’s birth defect, he trades his Jaguar for a trailer and lands up in Belle Haven. There, a changed man, he becomes as well liked as Rachel. Still, as the fire claims more victims, Joe, who has just inherited a trust fund, decides to act: he buys land, builds houses, and persuades his friends to move away. Only Rachel resists. Conceding that the town can’t be saved, she decides to travel before coming back to a waiting Joe. A well-crafted debut, but nothing ever quite ignites.