Carlson’s fifth novel, in which two native sons return after a long absence.
Back in 1969, high school senior Jimmy Brand rounded up three other seniors to form a garage band. The four guys savored their first assertion of independence, a taste of glory, but it all went to hell at the end of the school year. Jimmy’s big brother Matt, football hero and toast of the town, got stinking drunk; out alone on the reservoir in his father’s boat, he ended up cut to pieces. A devastated Jimmy left town right after the accident. Now it’s 30 years later, and Jimmy, a gay New York writer stricken by AIDS, has come home to die. While his mom is tenderly welcoming, his dad doesn’t want him in the house, so Jimmy bunks in the garage, their old rehearsal space. This is the story of that once tightknit group. The erstwhile drummer, Mason, a successful lawyer with his own firm in Denver, has returned to sell his childhood home. The visit leads to soul-searching by this unhappy, driven man. He feels better refurbishing his house; he’s joined by Craig, the hardware store owner, who’d rather spackle and paint than make nice to his customers. The pleasure of physical exertion is a major theme. The fourth member of the quartet, saloon owner Frank, rejuvenated by his second marriage, has no worries. Also featured prominently are Craig’s 17-year-old son, Larry, who loves his town but is ready to move on, and his wife, Marci, tempted to leave him for her boss. Jimmy has just enough strength to help Larry’s eventual girlfriend find her identity through her story writing and to sing along with the guys, who have re-formed the band and entered a talent contest. Sentimentality is the obvious trap, but Carlson avoids it. More problematic is the way that the reservoir accident remains unfinished business after 30 years.
Carlson's book affectionately captures the rhythms of small-town life. It's an understated work, spread a little too thin.