A fictional small town adjusts to the changing concepts of American identity in this discourse-heavy novel crammed with characters and 1920s history.
In Basalt City, Ore., reporter Donna Swan, priest Father Schmidt, teacher Peggy York, temperance-movement–leader Daisy Newton, barber Emil Mazzoni, moonshiner Dixon Jones, and a “klavern” of Ku Kluxers are a mere sampling of the characters in Hobart’s saga. There’s no shortage of historical conflict: labor strikes, integration, immigration, Prohibition, etc.—and Hobart takes on more than enough. Every character grapples with contentious cultural issues, and at times, they embody archetypes. Open-minded and open-hearted Peggy York, for example, seems to represent the future. She’s even bold enough to criticize the Klan at a public event: “What kind of community do we have when it is argued that people who do not share our values are not just wrong but morally inferior?” she asks. “What will this prejudice do to our future economic growth and standard of living?” One of Hobart’s successful devices is the inclusion of meeting minutes from the Basalt City Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan, providing insight into the group’s thought process. However, Hobart relies heavily on dialogue, which is often too expository to be believed. Much of the novel’s plot is driven by civic debate, particularly an initiative to abolish private schools; the Klan, especially, fears the presence of Catholic schools. The school initiative dominates much of the novel’s first half, but when that matter is settled, other civic concerns rush in to take its place. “That summer,” Hobart writes, “Basalt City slipped off the edge of emotional excitement brought on by concern over the strike, the election, the legislature, the KKK march, and the black ghetto.” The omnipresent animus among some of the city’s residents leads to kidnapping, rape, hostage holding and suicides, each event laced with political motivations. However, in the rich but broad story, a surprisingly happy ending for many of the characters provides some relief.
Eloquent but overburdened.