A sentimental, heart-wrenching tale from novelist and story- writer Currey (The Wars of Heaven, 1990, Fatal Light, 1988, etc.) offers brief glimpses of a banjo player's path--though tragic--to fame and self-respect. A coal miner's son born poor but proud enough to take up the banjo to ease the worry of his widowed mother, Sapper Reeves is cut from the rough, durable broadcloth of American legend. At the opening of the novel, Reeves, in his 70s, takes a break from writing the songs for what will prove to be his capstone album and drives back to his hometown of Maxwell, West Virginia, reflecting on the origins of the Steel Creek Boys, a trio he formed in 1947 with his boyhood chum Estin Wyrell and the handsome, self-assured Leonard James. With Leonard on guitar and Wyrell on fiddle, the three left their jobs, wives, and infants to go in search of success, but found mostly misery, disappointment, and loneliness while performing at high-school socials and dingy roadhouses. The joys of playing country music are never enough to overcome the disappointments, as the trio are cheated by dishonest club owners, exploited by radio stations, and insulted by drunks. After a hostile audience beats them up and smashes their instruments, Reeves slips for several years into an alcoholic funk, losing the affections of his trusting wife, Riva, but not of his young son, Bob, who later joins the Marines, goes off to fight in Vietnam, and returns home physically and spiritually crippled. Reeves's early experience with failure helps him cope with his son's despair. Then an unexpected gift of a banjo from Wyrell, and Riva's cautious return, bring Reeves back to his music at a time when a younger generation is looking for heroes. More bitter than sweet, and frequently fogged by self-conscious Faulknerisms, but finally saved by a convincing depiction of the hard lives of its characters and the stubborn persistence of their modest hopes in the midst of loss.