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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-07-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Gurganus returns to Falls, N.C., the setting of his Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, with this trio of linked novellas. "Fear Not" subjects a smalltown golden girl to horrific loss, an unplanned pregnancy, and a lifetime of wondering about the fate of her baby. The protagonist of "Saints Have Mothers" reluctantly sees her luminous, gifted daughter off on a global adventure, and has her worst fears realized. As she handles her own grief and the unfolding spectacle of Falls's collective mourning, Gurganus ratchets up the inner keening and deftly balances it with a certain sense of escalating absurdity. In "Decoy," a family history gets spun out as a backdrop to the retirement of the town's senior physician, a friend and confidant to the narrator, Bill Mabry, who still sees himself as a bit of an interloper in the country club set. "He knew so much. And about us! Our septic innards, our secret chin-lifts, our actual alcohol intake in liters-per-day." But as Dr. Roper leaves his medical role, Mabry's sense of loss gets sharper as the two men grow more remote from each other. In these layered, often funny narratives, close reading is rewarded as Gurganus exposes humanity as a strange species. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Sept.)
Gurganus revisits small-town setting
Falls, North Carolina, is a mythical, mystical place. On the surface, it seems to be a charming town filled with the sort of “aw shucks” folks you would expect to populate a remote Southern area. But dive in deeper and you’ll find a complex web of lives and relationships.
Allan Gurganus returns to this setting, which he established in his 1989 bestseller The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, in Local Souls, a collection of three linked novellas. Though the characters’ paths may lead them away from Falls, they all circle back eventually.
In “Fear Not,” a teenage girl earns herself a long-lasting moniker when she bellows out a single line in the town Christmas pageant. The name sticks with her as she witnesses her father’s horrific death and as she sorts through the emotions (or, sometimes, lack thereof) that follow.
The second tale, “Saints Have Mothers,” again revolves around fascination with a teen girl. Caitlin is beloved by all in Falls. When she goes missing, the town falls apart—but her doting mother at last finds herself the center of attention. “Decoy” draws parallels between the lives and upbringing of two of Falls’ upstanding men—and there’s more than a competitive spirit at work.
These stories are often dark, but they’re rendered with a light hand. Gurganus ably brings out the joy and absurdity in all manner of life’s twists and turns.