A fair-to-middling coming-of-ager set in Kansas, where the flatness of the plains can’t obscure the dark shadows of family secrets cast long ago in Scotland.
Glasgow, Kansas, has very little in common with its Scottish counterpart other than its name and the presence of Rob MacPherson. Born and reared in the Gorbals slums of the old Glasgow, Rob came to the new one in 1952 with his infant son Ewan in tow. Mourning his wife (who’d died in childbirth while crossing the Atlantic and was buried at sea) and homesick for his native land, Rob manages to settle into life in the new world, finding work at the post office and acquiring some renown for his skill with the bagpipes as well as the ladies. Ewan, by contrast, grows up a quiet and reserved young man not much given to his father’s favorite pastimes of whiskey and adultery. He does fall in love, though, with Shirley Porter—the daughter of one of Rob’s many conquests. After high school, Ewan and Shirley court scandal by moving in with each other while still unmarried, an arrangement that Rob encourages, somewhat to his son’s surprise. When Ewan discovers Shirley and his father in flagrante delicto, his surprise turns to outrage. He can break off with Shirley (and does), but he’s stuck with his father, an untrustworthy jerk but the only blood kin Ewan has left in the world. Or so he thinks: The discovery of a secret family album gives Ewan a new and unsuspected insight into his origins and leads him to retrace his father’s steps back to Glasgow in search of his mother. The truth, when it comes, is as sad as family secrets can be—but it explains a lot more than the past.
Decently done but unremarkable: second-novelist Averill (Secrets of the Tsil Café, 2001) creates some memorable characters but does little with them, and the lost-mother theme seems very old hat by now.