WILLY SLATER'S LANE by Mitch Wieland


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 Charming, upbeat first novel set in Ohio. Every farm community seems to have a pair of reclusive brothers whom the world has passed by, and Wieland portrays such a pair unerringly. The dominant brother here is Harlan, a sour, miserly man who sold off the best land on the farm when his hard-working father died and who has lived on the money ever since. He parcels out tiny stipends to his weak younger brother, Erban, and his hapless wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, grossly overweight, came to Harlan when he answered her desperate ad in the paper; all that he requires of her is that she cook. Erban does what few chores are required on the diminished farm but spends most of his time reading an old Britannica and making observations about nature. Meanwhile, as the industrious Amish pass in their buggies down Willy Slater's Lane, the road that runs past the farm, the house (which Harlan refuses to repair) slowly begins to collapse, and Erban and Elizabeth have to increasingly rely on the charity of neighbors even for food. Events come to a head when Elizabeth grows ill and Harlan refuses to seek medical help. Erban, struggling with a late-blooming strength, defies his brother and brings in the local doctor, a fine, crotchety character. Recovered, a grateful Elizabeth throws herself into an affair with Erban, an encounter of comic rather than biblical proportions, but it drives a wedge between the brothers that results in Elizabeth's departure and, indirectly, in Harlan's death. In the aftermath, Erban and the doctor's friendship flowers, and there is even the possibility of romance for Erban, with a high-school sweetheart of some 40 years before. A modest mixture of Sherwood Anderson and Erskine Caldwell, with some perfectly observed characters in a narrative that is winningly sweet without being sentimental.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-87074-408-9
Page count: 172pp
Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996