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In the Land of Second Chances

In the Land of Second Chances

4.6 6
by George Shaffner

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Meet Wilma Porter, the plucky and kindhearted owner of the only bed and breakfast in Ebb, Nebraska. Wilma knows everybody in town and everybody is in a bit of trouble. No one more so than Calvin Millet, though. His wife has up and left him and their ailing daughter. His department store is close to bankruptcy. His house has been destroyed by a tornado. The folks of


Meet Wilma Porter, the plucky and kindhearted owner of the only bed and breakfast in Ebb, Nebraska. Wilma knows everybody in town and everybody is in a bit of trouble. No one more so than Calvin Millet, though. His wife has up and left him and their ailing daughter. His department store is close to bankruptcy. His house has been destroyed by a tornado. The folks of Ebb, including Wilma and her indomitable gang of friends, watch Calvin's fortunes wane with great dismay, for in Ebb, everyone's fate is connected to his.

When a handsome stranger named Vernon L. Moore comes to town selling games of chance, more than a few eyebrows are raised. A consummate salesman, he befriends the troubled townspeople one by one. He listens to their stories and asks them intriguing questions that make them see their situations differently. The father of a dying child, the reclusive widow who's taken permanent board at the B & B, the banker with ulterior motives, and the outspoken Wilma Porter are all changed by their encounters with this mysterious man who seems not of this world. After all, no one has seen a traveling salesman in Ebb for more than thirty years. But wherever he's from and whoever he is, he leaves behind a town where second chances are not only possible, they can—and do—happen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When a traveling salesman mysteriously appears in smalltown Ebb, Nebr., he quickly settles in at Wilma Porter's Come Again B&B and sets about solving all the problems plaguing Ebb's small social circle in this chatty, earnest novel. While no one fully believes that the impeccably dressed Vernon Moore has truly come to sell games of chance (there are no prospective buyers, for one thing), they are eager to keep him around for excitement and advice. Through a series of conversations over Wilma's down-home cooking, and at Calvin Millet's Department Store-a family establishment fast falling prey to bankruptcy and Wal-Mart takeover-Mr. Moore pitches philosophy and faith to Ebb's residents. During Mr. Moore's six-day stay, Millet develops plans to save his store and gains courage to discuss death with his terminally ill daughter; a rich investor chooses his community over himself; and a lonely divorc e finds romance. Busybody Wilma makes for a spunky narrator, but in this story of odds and uncertainty the stakes fall short. The conceit-hotshot stranger comes to town to talk sense to backward rural folk-is hoary and diminishes the otherwise colorful characters, especially when Mr. Moore's shaky logic and platitudinous pontificating go unchallenged. Agent, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Oct. 15) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this winsome fable, a mysterious stranger blows into town, bringing hope to the father of a dying girl. Ebb, Nebraska, is an unusual small town. Its vibrant downtown is anchored by one of the last family-owned department stores in the state (Wal-Mart is the bogeyman). Its townspeople are effortlessly nice. Many are businesswomen and divorcees, including narrator Wilma Porter, an ebullient grandmother and owner of a classy B&B. One fine day, an elegantly attired gent with prematurely white hair asks for a room. Vernon Moore claims to be a traveling salesman of games of chance, but nobody believes such an anachronism still exists. Vernon, however, exudes integrity and quickly gets a meeting with department store owner Calvin Millet. The unlucky Calvin's 11-year-old daughter, Lucy, has an incurable disease, and banker Clem Tucker ("a hard, tough man," says Wilma) is about to call in loans to the store, necessitating its sale. It's time for the charismatic Vernon to go to work. Besides straightening out Clem, he persuades Calvin-in conversations that make up the heart of the story-to replace fear with hope. Nothing can stop Lucy's death, but she can die with dignity (deciding herself when to stop her medication), and in hope, if she and Calvin both believe in an afterlife. Vernon's ingenious pitch for the likelihood of multiple lives might give even a robust skeptic pause, though the inevitable schmaltz-effect (there's more than an echo here of Capra's It's a Wonderful Life) of the struggle to get a distraught man to think positive is offset by a bracing commonsense and refusal to ignore ugly realities (death, divorce, and Wal-Mart). As for the mystery of Vernon's origins, newcomerShaffner wisely leaves that question unresolved. Vernon makes strong use of ghosts in his arguments; hey, he might even be one himself. Shaffner's first is far from flawless, but its quirky charm and feminist slant could make it a surprise bestseller.
From the Publisher
“If you’ve been charmed by Jimmy Stewart and the small-town miracles of It’s a Wonderful Life, treat yourself to this unusual little novel full of hope, humor and singular characters.”

“A folksy, wise and gently amusing look at the importance of living life to the fullest and not only trusting in chance, but embracing uncertainty as the spice of life.”
–Rocky Mountain News

“By the end of the stranger’s six-day visit . . . Chances morphs from Fried Green Tomatoes into a wisecracking It’s a Wonderful Life.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“An accessible, engaging story peppered with characters who are eccentric, conflicted, tragic and humorous.”
–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Just what the doctor ordered.”
–Detroit News and Free Press

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.63(w) x 7.74(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Land of Second Chances

By George Shaffner

Random House

George Shaffner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345484983

Chapter One

Chapter 1

The Sad Edge of a Slippery Slope

My name is Wilma Porter. I own the Come Again Bed and Breakfast, which is the only B & B in Ebb, Nebraska, and the only one in Rutherford B. Hayes County that is recommended by two Internet directories. I bought the place from Clement Tucker, our very own Warren Buffett, who contracted an acute case of Midlife Crisis about five years ago and decided to build himself a modern house with all the latest conveniences.

The Come Again is a single-turreted, three-story Victorian mansion that was built by Silas Tucker the Second shortly after the Civil War. There's a single, grand oak tree in the front that antedates the house and a black asphalt driveway leading up to a formal porte-cochere and a little parking area for my guests. Last year, I had the house painted bone white except for the roof, which is black. I think the contrast is meaningful.

Clara Tucker Booth Yune, Clem Tucker's older sister and Ebb's most prominent recluse, occupies the entire third floor of the Come Again on a permanent basis. There are six bedrooms on the second floor. I live in the one that faces the back garden; the other five are for rent. Each bedroom has its own bathroom; the Cornhusker Suite even has a Jacuzzi. Downstairs, there's a living room the size of a tennis court, a parlor for the TV, a den, which I keep for myself as a rule, and a giant-sized dining room that will seat sixteen. Except for my kitchen, which is commercial grade, the entire house is decorated in beautiful old antiques that Clem Tucker left behind or I bought cheap at estate auctions and refinished myself in the basement.

Like most folks who live in Ebb, I was born right here, but about an hour after I got my high school diploma I jumped on a bus to North Platte. I came back with my two daughters after the divorce fifteen years later. Both girls are grown up and gone now. One is up in Omaha and the other is over in Council Bluffs, across the river.

By most measures, Ebb is a small town. It is the county seat, but only two thousand people live inside the city limits. There's not a lot to do here most of the time, and that's the way we like it. If we need some excitement, we can drive up to Lincoln. For twenty years, every politician in this area has been elected on the "No Wal-Mart, no how" platform. We take a similarly dim view of fast-food franchises, slow-food franchises, convenience-store franchises, and all other franchises with big, backlit signs in primary colors. The only exception is the new Starbucks on Main Street, but Ebb is so small that we only have the one.

All the rest of the stores on Main are unique and most of them have been in operation for more than fifty years. The biggest and most famous is Millet's, the last remaining department store in the tri-county region. Millet's, which is pronounced like "mill-it" and not like "mill-ay," sits right at the corner of Bean Street and Main, where it's been ever since Joshua Millet opened it up back in 1920. It has survived the Great Depression, rural flight, three bank bankruptcies, World War II, a flood, and God knows how many droughts and tornadoes. Now it is owned and managed by Calvin Millet, June and Joshua III's only child. Calvin is a smart, hardworking young man, and everybody in Hayes County shops at his store as if it was a patriotic duty, but we're all afraid that Millet's will not survive his run of terrible bad luck.

Calvin was a homely baby, bald and sort of wedge-headed, but he grew up to be tall and handsome in a gangly, fair-haired sort of way, kind of like Gary Cooper. He was too skinny to play high school football, a form of religion in these parts, but he studied hard and got good grades even though he worked in his father's store. After graduation, he went up to Lincoln and got himself a four-year degree in accounting, and then he joined the Air Force to see the world. They sent him to Bossier City, Louisiana.

Calvin had hardly been gone for any time at all when his parents were killed in a train accident. I could tell at the funeral that he had already started to lose his hearing. He's fine now; he wears tiny little hearing aids in both ears, but the Air Force had to give him a medical discharge so he came back home to run the family store. A year or so later, he married Mary Beth Tucker, Clem's only child and a bit of an airhead, but a real beauty and the catch of the county from a financial point of view. Six months after that, Lucy was born. I know what you're thinking, but the human gestation period in rural America is only six months for the first baby. After that, it's nine months.

When Lucy Millet was eight years old, she contracted some sort of neurological disorder. I hear it's similar to Lou Gehrig's disease, but more aggressive and unnaturally painful. Anyway, a real sick daughter was more than her momma could handle, so she pulled up and left for L.A. Just disappeared in the middle of the night. Took the Jeep and the dog and the George Foreman cooker and left Calvin a note saying she was real sorry.

Mary Beth's departure caused quite a buzz at the Quilting Circle. Most of us are divorcées ourselves, so we aren't inclined to be critical of any woman who leaves a man. In fact, we have a support system in place so that a woman can do it right: counselors, lawyers, day care, even police protection. But Mary Beth didn't use the system, and her husband and sick daughter suffered for it. She hasn't been welcome in these parts since.

Apparently, being a waitress to the stars was not keeping her in the manner to which she was accustomed, so Mary Beth came home anyway but just long enough to sue Calvin for divorce. Since she had only abandoned her husband and sick child in the dead of night, and taken the dog and the Jeep to boot, the court was sympathetic to her predicament. Calvin now pays her alimony. In case you were wondering, the judge is married to a Tucker, once removed.

Little Lucy Millet is the sweetest little blonde-haired girl you have ever seen and she is smart as a whip, but she isn't getting any better. For the last three years, Calvin has flown her all over the country looking for a doctor who can cure her, but all they've done is slow the disease down and, according to rumor, empty the Millet bank account. Calvin has health insurance through the farmer's co-op, just like everybody else in these parts, but most of Lucy's treatments have been experimental, and that means that the HMO won't pay for them. Unless somebody gets those insurance companies under control, I figure that two aspirin and a glass of water will count as a medical experiment before I'm dead.

The tornado hit last month while Calvin and Lucy were away at the Mayo Clinic. That was too early for tornadoes as a rule, but the weather has been unseasonably warm all year. Luckily, it was a tiny thing as twisters go. It missed the town and everything else in Rutherford B. Hayes County except for Rufus Bowe's grain silo and Calvin Millet's place. Actually, it tore the roof off of Rufus's silo and dropped it on Calvin's house--dead center. I drove out to see what happened with my best friend, Loretta Parsons, who is Ebb's sole resident black person and the owner of the Bold Cut Beauty Salon. Calvin's home was a sight to see. It looked like a pile of rubble with a great big aluminum teacup sitting in the middle of it. You wouldn't think that anybody's aim could be that good, not even God's.

After the tornado, Calvin and Lucy stayed with me at the Come Again for a few days until he found them a cracker-box of a house to rent in Carson, about fifteen minutes down the road toward the Kansas line. Calvin hasn't talked to Buzz Busby about rebuilding yet, even though that place is so small and so far away from town. I would know for sure if he had.

We're all sad for Calvin Millet and worried sick about poor Lucy--any caring person would be--but I have to tell you the honest truth: we're just as scared of rural America's variety of the domino theory. If Calvin's finances fall apart, then Millet's Department Store will fail. If Millet's goes under, then the county's political resolve will collapse and we'll get a Wal-Mart store one week later--in a ravine ten miles from nowhere because the land will be dirt cheap. The next thing you know, everybody in the county will be shopping for bargains in the ravine, so Loretta will have to shut her doors, and so will the Starbucks and every other place on Main except for the Corn Palace and the Yune Library. Then the girls won't bring their kids back after they get divorced and that will be the end of Ebb as we know it.

You may think that I'm exaggerating, but this town is perched on the sad edge of a slippery slope. I went to church and wished to God I could help in some way, but He sent us a salesman. That's right, a salesman. At least that's my theory. You be the judge.

Excerpted from In the Land of Second Chances by George Shaffner Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

GEORGE SHAFFNER is the author of In the Land of Second Chances and One Part Angel. He lives in Sammamish, Washington.

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In the Land of Second Chances 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought because lived in mn but i would reccomend for anyone
Eunie More than 1 year ago
A traveling salesman hadn't come to Ebb, Nebraska in years and Wilma Porter, owner of the town's Bed and Breakfast and "in the know" when it concerned the town's residents, was very curious and quite willing to answer any question the well-dressed Vernon Moore asked about the residents of Ebb. Who was this mysterious stranger who brought so many changes to the lives of Calvin and his daughter, Lucy, age 11, and dying, their father-in-law and grandfather, Clem Tucker, Loretta, the out-going, black beauty operator, Wilma, herself, and to the town of Ebb, and what was he selling? Why couldn't any record be found of Vernon Moore, and when he left town on Easter Saturday, why did he tell Wilma he was going to Trinidad, Colorado and Loretta that he was going to the island in the Caribbean? I love the new law passed in the town of Ebb at Lucy's funeral, that "no child proceed a parent in death, but if a child should break the law, he or she will be cared for unceasingly." The author definitely wants the reader to view the story through the beliefs of his or her personal faith and suggests that Vernon Moore was of another world. Eunice Boeve, author of Ride a Shadowed Trail
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a little gem. I will admit I'm a sucker for a text that lifts the spirits and makes me feel good about the world. That said, Shaffner goes several steps beyond 'mere' heart-warming. I've recently read 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' and enjoyed it, but for me, it paled in comparison. I was swimming in details of the many rich characters and relationships in the middle-American town for the first several chapters. Then the writing sucked me into that 'can't put it down' vortex. I love the sensation that my life is getting in the way of finishing a book and 'The Land of Second Chances' delivered just that dilemma. Delicious! There is some significant philosophy artfully tucked away in this text. I was deeply engaged by the story, but also struck by the gentle touch used to deliver some spiritual reckoning. Using logic and odds calculations to address age-old spiritual and philosophical issues is at a minimum unique. For me, it is also quite compelling. The story waltzes you through such explorations with empirically powered, odds assessments - backed up with 'even if it's a toss-up, why choose a frown?'. Shaffner gives us all something to smile about! I hope to see more from him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'In the Land of Second Chances' is one of those heartwarming books that can make you smile through your tears. The book features a cast of characters, some a little on the eccentic side, who deeply care about each other and their small rural town. With the help of a mysterious traveling salesman they face a series of adversities with love, humor, and perseverance. This is a story for today, one that reminds us of the importance of love, community, and the indomitable spirit that allows us to face even the most heart wrenching pain and hopelessness. This is a story about hope. A must read for all audiences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a delightful story delivered in an easy read style. The characters and setting are vividly depicted in the mind's eye...amazing given the efficient writing style of the author. I suspect this will be a big Christmas hit with families and individuals who cherish the human spirit.