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by Tom Drury

Pub Date: March 29th, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-62151-8
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Drury's first novel, set in Grouse County, a network of small towns in the Midwest, is a poker-faced look at American folkways in a world that is precarious and perverse. Grouse County does not have cable, and it will never, ancient rumors to the contrary, play host to a farm movie starring Sally Field. On the other hand it does have Big Days, town meetings, and periodic elections for Sheriff. Instead of a plot, Drury provides a panoramic view of the county, a host of minor characters, and three major ones: Tiny Darling, an unconvicted thief; his wife, Louise, and Sheriff Dan Norman. While Tiny is an instantly recognizable lowlife, Drury constructs Dan and Louise almost stealthily, a detail here, a trait there. Early on Louise tires of her seven-year marriage to Tiny and throws him out. In short order, she and Dan are dating, sleeping together, living together, married. Dan is a laid-back sheriff, but he has no experience of domesticity. Bothered by insomnia, he sees a therapist who finds him unreadable, as does Louise, though she continues to love him. The crisis comes when Louise almost dies after her baby is stillborn. The irony (unforced) is that earlier Sheriff Dan had been led to an abandoned baby in a supermarket. The unwanted baby lives; the wanted baby dies. Shattered, Louise retreats to her aunt's house in Minnesota while Dan runs for re-election. A poor politician, he is almost defeated by a rich farmer's son and dirty tricks engineered by Tiny. Louise returns home. Slow fade. There's an awful lot here to like: the dialogue, the sly humor, the feather-light touch, the clean drive of the prose. All Drury needs is a plot for his work to really take off.