PLOWING UP A SNAKE by Merle Drown

PLOWING UP A SNAKE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Set in the mid-Fifties in a tiny New Hampshire town, Drown's first novel concerns itself with a nearly Greek sense of retribution. Forrest Langley, a farmer whom no one in town particularly likes, beats up a local boy sent from the dairy to return two cans of Langley milk that were sour and unfit for pasteurizing. Enraged, three other dairymen go out to Langley's farm on New Year's morning: they kill him, then dispose of the body. And witness to this disposal (though he deosn't know what he's seeing at the time) is Clay Freeman, Langley's cousin and the owner of a maple-candy kitchen--a doggedly ethical man who, despite his dislike of Langley (and his love for Langley's widow Marjorie), tries to do the right thing throughout. But Clay's ethics can't prevent other murders from erupting: a handyman scalds to death his daughter's seducer; widow Marjorie has revenge upon her husband's killers. And Drown effectively suggests the atmosphere of rural isolationism which muffles these killings, the infectious nature of evil. The novel as a whole, however, suffers from this dark relentlessness: the narrative is so intent upon its dour naturalism that it tends to telegraph nearly all its punches; the characters lack shading, often seeming confusingly similar; and, though intermittently successful in the narrow aim of evoking nastiness-in-the-country, Drown's serious, promising fiction-debut makes for somewhat monotonous reading--and is far less rewarding as a study of rural-New-England than Ernest Hebert's roughly comparable The Dogs of March. (See also Hebert's new novel, below.)

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Dial