Yarbrough returns to Loring, Miss.
Loring, circa 1902, was the setting for the author’s Visible Spirits (2001); and 1943 for his Prisoners of War (2004). Now he chronicles the present-day residents of Loring, most notably Pete Barrington, former high-school football hero and a physician, who has returned with his wife and family to the town of his youth after sexual misconduct with a patient ended his California practice. Pete's physique and magnetism amount to a troubled destiny. As a teenager, he was seduced by Maggie Depoyster, the mother of a shy, devout schoolmate. As an adult, Pete ruefully reflects that “he felt as if . . . some force, like gravity, drew others toward him. Once they entered his orbit, their navigational systems went haywire.” Now, Maggie's son Alan, a deacon at his church and manager of a grocery store, still blames Pete for destroying his family, a resentment fed by Pete's popularity and superiority in sports. This grudge has lasting, tragic consequences for both families, particularly because Alan's son Mason, a kindly boy, is the first to approach Pete's daughter Toni at her new school, and the two have become friends. The dialogue here sometimes reflects the novelist's voice too obviously. It's hard to imagine anyone saying, as Pete does, “The rarity of the circus combined with the smallness of the town to make its presence here a thing of wonder.” But if a few phrases are overly purple, much rings true, particularly the lifelike, easy, but inexorable way events unfold. The momentum that builds, the increasing power the characters have to do each other good or ill, holds the reader spellbound. In the character of Alan, there is a particularly moving portrait of a person of faith, which makes the one shocking crime he commits all the more resonant.
Yarbrough fulfills the novelist's chief task, by giving weight and import to human actions.