A novel about big ideas in a small town.
Thomas Donaldson became the mayor of Stirling, Wisconsin, in the hope of eventually running for the state senate. Reviving a small, failing town, he thinks, would count as evidence of qualification for grander office. However, he learns that George McBurney has posted a sign on his 600-acre farm announcing his plan to build a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark as an expression of his religious belief. Thomas tries to dissuade him, but George is fiercely committed to his “Big Idea” and prepared for a protracted political fight if anyone tries to stop him. Meanwhile, Martha Downing reports that she witnessed the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often called “BVM” for short, emblazoned on a cement wall of an underpass. Lowell Waller visits what many immediately interpret to be a shrine and regains the power of speech that he lost following a stroke. Martha and some other like-minded enthusiasts waste no time in declaring Lowell’s boon a miracle. Thomas struggles to balance his own genuine religiosity with his desire to avoid public embarrassment. Meanwhile, he tries to delicately handle public opinion about the prospect of George’s ark, which he views as a ridiculous future eyesore. Thomas also learns that his daughter, once a star student at Yale University, is undergoing hormonal therapy to become a man. Author Reed’s (Saluting the Sun, 2015, etc.) novel is wildly implausible and flirts too conspicuously with attempts to make the plot serve a greater lesson. As is often the case with intentional farce, some of the characters are reductive caricatures—more like personified punch lines than fully fleshed-out people. However, the story is so inventive and genuinely funny that readers should be able to forgive its heavy-handedness. Reed dishes out ridiculousness without devolving into manic slapstick and courageously tackles controversial issues with a graceful touch. The author rightfully lets her characters speak for themselves as much as possible, with sharp-tongued dialogue that never seems overly contrived.
A delightfully lighthearted tale that engages serious issues through farce.