A Novel That'll Sure Tickle the Funny Bone
One Part Angel
By George Shaffner
Algonquin, 2006, $23.95
Ebb, Neb., is a woman's town. Almost all the important roles in town are filled by women, and the unofficial governing system is the Quilting Circle, a group of women whose objectives are things like "make sure no child is cold at night."
Obviously this is not the normal way to run a town. But Ebb is no normal town. While other small towns in the Nebraska plains are dying out, Ebb continues to prosper, if not grow. The daughters who moved away in search of better things usually return, bringing their children with them, after realizing the benefits they left behind.
It is not paradise, however. The citizens of Ebb still have to deal with making a living, especially in a farming community where family-owned farms often produce more debt than income. They also have the same crimes as any community in the modern world.
One of those crimes is the reason Wilma Porter, owner of the Come Again Bed and Breakfast, prays that the mysterious traveling salesman, Vernon Moore, will return.
The last time he was in town, Mr. Moore managed to transform nearly everyone's lives. Although he claimed to be selling old-fashioned games, what he was really selling was hope.
Shortly after Wilma's prayers, Vernon does show up again and finds out that Loretta Parsons, Wilma's best friend, mother of Vernon's child -- and the only person of color in Ebb -- has been viciously attacked and is in a coma in the local hospital.
The police know that three people were involved in the attack, but were able to catch only one, and he refuses to name his two accomplices. Even more troubling is the fact that the teenager arrested is Wilma's grandson.
Wilma does not want Vernon to free Matt; she just wants him to get Matt talking, perhaps explain why he did what he did and, more importantly, name the other two involved.
In the meantime, Wilma's fianc in perpetuity and owner of the local bank is causing concern among the Quilting Circle himself.
He's begun selling off his family's farmland and appears to be arranging the sale of the local bank as well. As far as the Quilting Circle is concerned, this can only mean he's up to no good.
After meeting with Matt in his jail cell, Vernon tells Wilma that he plans on selling charity this time.
Without giving away too much of the novel, that is exactly what Vernon manages to do.
Shaffner has once again created a novel that will both touch the heartstrings and massage the funny bone.
His characters are distinctive individuals with valid concerns about their families, their communities, and the world in which they live.
Although they may be living an almost idealized version of small town life, their hopes and fears are ones with which we can all identify.
A subplot deals with determining the true identity of Vernon, which is once again left unresolved. This is as it should be, a reminder of the possibilities that lie within us all.
Lisa Dees is a Raleigh freelance writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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