Young Wayland Garrett's life story is one composed of lies. Yet, that story is compelling, not only for the journey he takes to become a man but also for the language in which his story is told, deceptive though it may be. In words of quiet beauty and with effortless grace, author William Hoffman takes us back to the tobacco country of Depression-era Virginia, where Wayland's story begins. His past is peopled by spectral figures: his mother-a proud, upright woman worn thin and tough by poverty and ceaseless toil;...
Young Wayland Garrett's life story is one composed of lies. Yet, that story is compelling, not only for the journey he takes to become a man but also for the language in which his story is told, deceptive though it may be. In words of quiet beauty and with effortless grace, author William Hoffman takes us back to the tobacco country of Depression-era Virginia, where Wayland's story begins. His past is peopled by spectral figures: his mother-a proud, upright woman worn thin and tough by poverty and ceaseless toil; his daddy-who taught his boys to live off the land and take what was needed but died broken and unable to provide for his family the only way he knew; and the Ballards-wealthy landowners who were the gods of their own pastoral heaven, prospering from the sweat of others and expecting thanks for the privilege. Wayland flees from this life to war-torn Europe, where he struggles to find courage buried within, despite his ever-present fear in a land burdened by destruction and carnage. Following Germany's surrender, Wayland flees again, this time to Southern Florida, where he reinvents himself through deception, of both himself and those around him. Finally, Wayland looks back at the land he left behind-Howell County, Virginia-and the innocent, ignorant boy he left in its fields. As he recalls his struggle toward manhood and independence, he must decide how much of this life he should now reveal to his cultured wife and beautiful daughter, who know nothing of hunger and want, and how much will stay buried under the dust of his past and remain hidden by lies.
"The easy flow of Hoffman's storytelling belies the sharpness of his perspective, the craftsmanship of his art, and the keenness of his ear for language. Each story is a finely-wrought artifact where life is both tragic and courageous, but never without hope."
"Few writers have an ear so finely attuned to the pulsebeat of a place as William Hoffman."
In Hoffman's lyrical 14th novel, "threatening shapes of memory... swirl in the darkness" of one man's worried mind. Wayland Garnett is a well-to-do, well-adjusted Florida businessman with an athletic younger wife, two adorable children, a spacious home and a sleek yacht--all the trappings of the upwardly mobile American dream. But his past is always with him: a hardscrabble boyhood of tobacco-field servitude and spirit-crushing poverty in Depression-era Virginia, mean years that sucked life out of his mama and left his daddy a maimed husk of a man. Enlistment as an underage soldier in World War II liberates Garnett from his dusty, desperate world. After the war, pride, stubbornness and intelligence spur him to invent a more illustrious past for himself--a deception foisted on friends and family that, decades later, infuses his days with a haunting melancholy. Now in his 80th year, Hoffman remains one of our finest storytellers; with this novel he demonstrates anew that he is a writer of compelling simplicity. His crisp prose evokes both the poignancy of the past and the essence of a man who has escaped that past with chilling eloquence. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Scenes from a dirt-poor childhood in Depression-era Virginia. In the bad old days, Wayland Garnett lived with his four siblings in a cabin in the woods, on the estate of the almighty Ballards. Now, 47 years later, the 63-year-old Wayland is a prosperous Florida businessman with a beautiful wife and daughter, all traces of the redneck expunged. On a business trip to Richmond, Wayland revisits the estate for the first time. A chapter about the past is preceded by a page set in the present; each chapter repeats the pattern. It's an awkward device for this veteran Southern writer (Tidewater Blood, 1998, etc.), and in the end, there's no payoff. Wayland has lied to wife Amy about his past, claiming to be the son of a tobacco planter, but he decides after his memory lane trip that telling her the truth might destroy their marriage. That truth is harsh: Wayland's daddy manages by poaching from the Ballards (the family lives off Ballard castoffs), and making corn liquor; his momma goes barefoot; and Wayland clears ditches. Yet they have their white skin to remind them they are a cut above "the darkies," an assumption bred in the bone. When his daddy loses his arm to a baler, he loses his self-respect and drowns himself. After Wayland finds his mother frozen to death in the outhouse, the family scatters. Wayland falls in love with the Ballard heiress, Diana. They're both 16. Challenged by her brother Eugene, he decks the rich kid, then gives up ("poor whites don't contend above their station"). It's time to leave. The war has begun, and before you know it, Wayland has landed in Normandy. A muddled account of his years as an infantryman seems to have been added as filler. As for that journey home,all Wayland learns is that ancient truth: Death is the great leveler. Hoffman conveys the stink of poverty and the shame it can cause, but not much else.