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From the justly touted author of Vanished (a 1988 NBA nominee) and A Dangerous Woman (1991) comes this panoramic view of small-town life--a novel infused with empathy for the flawed and failed who live there. Set in the summer of 1960, the story details how the Fermoyle family and their neighbors are nearly destroyed by a dangerous con man, Omar Duvall. When 12-year-old Benjy Fermoyle witnesses a murder in the woods above his Vermont hometown, then sees the murderer, Omar, appear later that evening with flowers for his mother, Marie, he is not surprised, and tells no one: Benjy has known forever that Omar's coming was ""as inevitable as the summer's fiery sun, and as unstoppable."" Posing as a peddlar, Omar soon insinuates himself into the family by shrewdly flattering them. Lonely Marie, who gets no help from alcoholic ex-husband Sam in raising Alice, Norm, and young Benjy, is especially vulnerable to his attentions. She not only provides Omar with food and shelter but forges signatures so she can get a loan to invest in the get-rich soap-selling scheme he's touting. As the summer progresses, subplots unfold that parallel and often connect with the Fermoyles' fate: The local police chief has an affair while his wife lies dying; a young priest falls in love with Alice; an insurance salesman, besotted with his wife (a former showgirl), takes to crime; and Sam tries to dry out and get his family back. Meanwhile, the novel gains its thriller-like tension from the children's complex relationship with Omar, a man who makes their mother happy but is increasingly revealed to be both bad and dangerous. By summer's end, ""the malevolence in the air"" has finally dissipated, and the Fermoyles are on surer ground. A grand sweep of a novel: Morris, like a contemporary Dickens, creates a world teeming with incident and characters often foolish, even nasty, but always alive and in your face.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1995
ISBN: 0140244824
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Viking