Virtue battles mediocrity in a small town whose inhabitants display the American character—and human nature—at its best and worst.
Although Doyon’s adult debut (after a career in teenage series fiction) uses simple prose that brings to mind those happy towns of 1950s children’s literature, she bluntly depicts Cedar Hole as a drab Nowhereland. Lawn mowing is the main recreation, and citizens live without optimism or imagination. Though his father is a drunk and his mother an obese shut-in, Robert Cutler stands out in this dreary place thanks to his virtue and superior intellect. Nevertheless, once grown he loyally stays in Cedar Hole. Robert’s wife, Bernie, from nearby Palmdale and thus a cut above, begrudges him his devotion to the town, specifically to the library, and her resentment boils over when Robert dies in a fluke accident while buying a desk for the librarian. In contrast to this saintly, impersonal perfection, Francis “Spud” Pinkham grows up a typical Cedar Hole drudge. His early envy and dislike of classmate Robert increase after Robert’s creativity beats his speed in the annual mowing contest. Despite his flaws, or perhaps because of them, Francis gradually takes over the story. Bullied by his sisters, full of unvoiced yearnings and regrets, he also shows glimmers of potential. Like Robert, he marries a Palmdale girl, the loyal Anita. He struggles to make ends meet mowing lawns and delivering groceries. He performs secret acts of kindness (and betrayal). Then, after Robert’s death, Francis’s life turns around. Bottling water from a spring on his land brings him wealth and respect from his peers, who see him filling Robert’s shoes as the town’s golden son. Unlike Robert—but like Bernie and a handful of other richly drawn characters—Francis wades into moral gray areas in his struggle to become a decent man.
A little too overtly uplifting, but plucks a strong melody on the heartstrings.