A gentle, nostalgic tale of small-town love and misadventure.
The fictional town of Battle Creek, N.C., is the setting for this quick first installment of a planned series. As the novel opens, teenage football star Travis Davis says his prayers, hoping that Mary Sue Baker (“surely the prettiest, smartest, and just doggone wonderful girl in the whole of Jefferson High School and possibly the entire world”) will agree to go with him to a dance. He also prays that his mother, Marge, will start dating again, five years after his father’s death. Marge is 43 and philosophical about her solitude since her husband died “in a terrible accident with a compacting machine” and has largely devoted herself to Travis. When Travis hurts his knee during practice, his coach, Doug McAllister, takes him to the hospital. A worried Marge soon joins them, and she nearly collides with McAllister’s “incredibly muscled chest.” McAllister’s impression is that Marge is “much too hot to be the mother of an 18 year old.” After just a few amiably written and deftly controlled passages, the two are holding hands, kissing and otherwise embarrassing poor Travis—who at least has the sympathies of Mary Sue. Cain does a fine job of dramatizing the small town’s insidious web of gossip and prudery, and her folksy humor pays refreshingly low-key homage to Mark Twain. This book’s slim plot is briefly complicated by the appearance of a beautiful young woman in McAllister’s home (the town gossips immediately start calling her his mistress), but the good-natured narrative never veers from its sunny premise.
An effective, heartwarming beginning to this series set in rural America.