In the early 1980s, two aspiring musicians yearn to escape their sleepy West Virginia hometown in Collison’s (Water Ghosts, 2015, etc.) short, lyrical novel.
Chancellor “Chance” Lee and his best friend, Tollie Osbourne, have always wanted to leave Falling Waters, West Virginia, and from the time they’re in high school, both believe rock music can be their tickets out. Tollie is the naturally talented one, “Jimi Hendrix re-incarnated.” Chance plays rhythm guitar and later learns the drums when the two get a regular gig in a country band. While they wait for stardom, Tollie works construction and Chance sells the weed he grows. The summer they’re 22, they drop $5 each on a visit to “the witch,” a woman who tells fortunes on the night of the full moon. That’s where trouble starts. Tollie leaves the witch’s trailer dejected but tight-lipped, while Chance, told he “was born under a bright star,” is destined to have good luck. But he needs to take advantage of his fortune, the witch tells him: “I want you to grab on to luck when it comes around. I want you to hang on tight and see where it takes you.” Chance is sure that his own luck will sweep Tollie along with it—they’re best friends, after all—but that night, their fates start to diverge. Soon, Tollie’s girlfriend leaves him, and his mother dies suddenly; Chance inherits a vast sum from his grandfather and falls for the witch’s daughter, Brigit. Can the band survive? Collison’s novel starts strong, and her writing is evocative, as when she describes Falling Waters: “Like two old woman’s hands cupped, a little bowl in the midst of craggy, tangled green hills.” While she takes her time establishing Chance’s and Tollie’s back stories, the novel’s pace speeds up as it progresses. However, once the friends separate, the years pass quickly, the meditative tone getting lost along the way.
A well-written novel that rushes through its second half; readers might want another 100 pages.