Headley, Jason. Small Town Odds. Chronicle, 2006. ISBN 978-0811853668 344 pp. $
April, cool about Kelly DiPucchio!
I too have had an author communication recently, from someone who read a review I posted here in which I mentioned that I love Richard Russo’s work. The someone, a first-time author named Jason Headley, told me that his novel Small Town Odds had been compared to Russo’s novels and invited me to take a look.
I was engrossed in this book from the first chapter, all over it “like white on rice,” to borrow a well-loved Southern phrase. The main character, Eric Mercer, is a 24-year-old West Virginian with a penchant for finding all the trouble that his small town has to offer, and making his own when supply lags demand. Fate (or rather, a drunken liaison with an “older” woman he had secretly admired since he was a boy) has left him playing a permanent gig in his hometown of Pinely with adorable five-year-old daughter Tess. Eric’s plans with Jill Dupree, his high-school love, were eradicated, as was his ticket to Providence (both to attend Brown University and to take advantage of the divine intervention that would have allowed him to escape Pinely), and he can neither forget it nor escape it, though he tries mightily to do both. When Jill’s father dies, she returns to Pinely for the funeral (at which, in his capacity as the town undertaker’s assistant, he assists), and Eric has to face his demons.
I like this book because it has that certain je ne sais quoi that exists when the author completely knows his/her characters’ hearts and minds. I don’t mean the omniscient point of view; I mean when you could make up the craziest scenario imaginable, or even the most nondescript one, and the author’s description has you nodding in total agreement. Like when Eric’s daughter pitches a fit after George Dupree’s funeral, wanting to ride “in the big car with George Dupree”; as Eric tries to calm her, Jill tells him that “I wouldn’t mind riding with you and George Dupree, myself.” I laughed and said to myself, “Of course you would say that, Jill!” Or the wry sardonicism Eric displays when his dad tells him that the star that he has wished on all of his life is actually the planet Mars; Eric “shook his head in disbelief that his carefully planned, intricate network of dreams had been, in all likelihood, negated on an astral technicality.” Or the author’s recounting of Eric and Jill’s first sexual experience together; it’s the best account of adolescent sex I’ve read in a long time, awkward and funny and honest. But I don’t want to spoil the book by recounting too much more of it; unlike the trailer for a bad movie, there are many more funny and interesting parts in the book than are shown up front. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
~posted by Macee