Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Local Boy Makes Good, Then Makes Bad

The End of California by Steve Yarbrough

There's something about the state of Mississippi that causes writers to make up towns to exist there. In the case of Steve Yarbrough, that town is Loring, somewhere in the Delta between Memphis and Jackson. But while Yarbrough's previous books about Loring have been set in the first half of the 20th century, The End of California takes place in the present day.

Hometown hero Pete Barrington flees Fresno with his family in the wake of scandal, infidelity, and professional disgrace, and returns to the only home he's ever known. His California-bred wife and daughter are decidedly unthrilled about the move, but determined to keep their family together. Pete quickly falls back into the role of local golden boy, coaching the struggling high school football team to victory, and drawing patients away from the incompetent local practice. He also falls back in with his high school buddy, Tim, now an alcoholic public defender with a failed marriage behind him.

Life goes on. However, not everyone in Loring is in love with Pete's memory. Piggly Wiggly manager Alan DePoyster has spent a long time in church learning forgiveness and love, and despite the crap deal that his parents and Pete Barrington handed him in high school, he's managed to live a good and decent life, with a loving wife and a gem of a son by his side. But when Pete returns to Loring, Alan's old rage begins to simmer, with tragic consequences.

While I expected a routine story about middle-aged people who have ruined their lives, Yarbrough's graceful writing and carefully layered plot make The End of California anything but routine. Books about small town malaise haven't been done to death - they're just rarely done this well.

If you liked...: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry or Empire Falls by Richard Russo, this book is for you.

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