A likable loser has his small-town life upended by vicious lowlifes and Twilight Zone weirdness in this sparkling fourth novel from Drury (Hunts in Dreams, 2000, etc.).
We first meet high-school junior Pierre Hunter while he’s visiting his girlfriend in the hospital. Soon afterward, she dumps him. He’s in college when his parents (elderly, eccentric, cherished) die within weeks of each other. Pierre does not retreat into self-pity, but it takes him five years to graduate. He finds work as a bartender at a supper club in Shale, Iowa, his hometown. Not everything that happens to Pierre is bad. Skating on a lake, he falls through the ice but is rescued by a beautiful young woman called Stella, who revives him in her little house on a bluff, where she lives alone. It’s like a fairy tale, thinks Pierre, not knowing that Stella and an old man, a kind of paranormal fixer, are using Pierre for their own ends. Stella is drawn to Pierre regardless, and they make love with abandon before he hitchhikes to California to vacation with his cousin’s family. Returning home, he gets a ride from Shane Hall, a career criminal who once burned down a house with a person inside. Luckily for Pierre, Shane is as much of a bungler as he is; his attempt to steal Pierre’s backpack ends with Shane unconscious and Pierre richer by thousands of dollars (he found the stash under the hood). He’ll send the money to a lost soul he met on the way out, but by now Shane and his partners are tracking him down. Drury ties up all the threads (Shane, the fire, Stella) with consummate skill; the climax comes the day Shale is celebrating “Bank Robbery Days.” The bittersweet ending is a perfect mix of light and dark.
Drury is a master at showing extraordinary things happening to ordinary people—and it’s always a fun ride.