HOMETOWN by Peter Davis


Email this review


On the surface, almost everything is wrong with Davis' multi-faceted look at Hamilton, Ohio. He rashly announces his intention of combining Middletown sociology with Winesburg, Ohio storytelling--then comes off sounding variously like a secondrate A. J. Liebling (the bar and beauty-parlor sketches), Truman Capote (the reconstruction of a collision-course murder), and Calvin Trillin (the case of the music-teacher-in-the-men's-lay that climaxes the book). He also attitudinizes relentlessly; writes a clumsy, reiterative, compulsively metaphorical prose; and concludes with a blanket indictment of the town's fortress-mentality that's out of kilter with his variegated material. The compensation, for tolerant readers, is that there is real material here--some of it the result of Davis' foraging along beaten paths, some of it thrown up by those two untoward events. At a picture-book wedding, both sets of parents turn out to be messily divorced, both families at loggerheads. (""If, in nuclear terminology, the wedding of Bob and Nancy would have been called fusion, the reception would certainly have been fission,"" begins Davis' maladroit discursus.) The town's two high schools, smug Taft and ""tough"" Garfield, present a casebook image of social polarization. The prototypical beauty-parlor operator deservedly gets everybody's trade and knows everybody's business. The Hamilton Tool Co. strike characteristically pits a nostalgically paternalistic employer against an ethnically-diverse, tenuously-united workforce. The town's leading citizen is a believable Melvyn-Douglas maverick grandee. The murder case, in turn, does shape up (with some tugging) as an inevitable clash between two losers: ""town ruffian"" Billy Krug and his ineffectual, eruptive brother-in-law Ned Wortees--who, after much baiting by wife Marilyn and all the Krugs, up and shoots Billy. More interesting is Ned's trial. By all the evidence (some of it filtered--a very effective bit--through three hooting, cheering Garfield girls), Ned should get off lightly; but the jury returns a murder verdict--because, the judge thinks, some juror knew of Ned's prior record (and, for the common good, he had to be put away). The big difference in the case of Taft choral director Same Shie--flimsily accused of masturbating in a suspect men's room--is that the town splits, along unorthodox lines, over the issue. But the school board--which has contended that, guilty or not, Sam's use as a teacher is over--ultimately has its way, regardless. It's that final raw, cross-hatched confrontation that especially mocks Davis' sniffy censure of the town. But one does, to his credit, become involved--and the simultaneous appearance of Middletown Families (above) may give the book an additional boost.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster