The breakup of his marriage forces a young Southerner to reach back into his family’s past to salvage his identity.
It was all looking so good for Zeb Dupree, eldest son of a North Carolina sharecropper. First in the family to go to college, let alone graduate; the marriage to an influential preacher’s daughter he had thought unattainable; the plum job as editor of a suburban New Orleans paper; the split-level home. Then came the phone call: His father had killed himself. Zeb took the news so hard that he started drinking heavily, lost his job and his wife, Roseanne. We first meet Zeb as he’s returning to his old college town, Cedar Springs in the Piedmont, looking for a band to play with (he’s a fiddler). But the world has moved on. It’s the ’70s now, the hippies are gone, and rock has replaced country. Zeb must settle for washing dishes and painting condos. To his chagrin, his younger brothers L.C. and Merle are now doing better materially than he is, though L.C., a Vietnam vet, is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. March’s crisply written story weaves in and out of the past. Zeb begins a tentative relationship with a new girlfriend, but he must deal with his father’s suicide before he can move ahead again. Lavis had had a bitterly pessimistic view of life, ever since his brother had cheated him out of his share of the family farm. After that, working another man’s land, Lavis had always feared he would be evicted. Had Lavis resented Zeb’s early success? Zeb must forgive his father before he can become whole again. And then it comes to him: He must buy back the damaged family farm and rebuild his life even as he literally rebuilds the “homeplace.”
The resolution is a tad facile, but March’s likable first novel is unerringly true in its evocation of Southern mores.