A decade after his story collection, The Bride of Ambrose, Freeman returns with an insightful, down-to-earth debut novel, this also set in the imaginary town of Ambrose, Vermont. Here, local logging and the appearance of a pretty Texas drifter coincide to disturb the equilibrium of the village's first citizen.
Much of the land in and around Ambrose has been in Garrett Benteen's family for generations, giving the old codger a proprietary air, which is punctured when a neighbor decides to log off his own hillside and put up cheap houses. While Garrett spies on the operation from the safety of his wood, resentment building, trouble brews on another front: Tyler McClellan, on the run from a mankilling snake-charmer in Texas, finds shelter in the safehouse run by the mother of Garrett's driver, Hugh, who becomes increasingly enamored of her. Although he's both a hulk and a hunk, the Dartmouth reject (booted out for belting a football coach) doesn't have much to offer Tyler beyond his physiquenot even when Hugh steps up his systematic theft of Garrett's family heirlooms in preparation for getting out of town for good. Tyler casts her lot with the old man, who's more of a match for her sharp wit, moving into his house and replacing Hugh as his driver. But even Tyler can't keep the demons in Garrett's head from pushing him over the edge after an ailing old friend of his, whom he rescued from the Soldiers' Home and tended, finally dies. Garrett confronts his logging neighbor across a freshly poured foundation in a showdown that bodes ill for all.
Craggy-faced Vermonters who embody all facets of the human condition, a complex but sure handling of story, and a tender touch in describing the land itself give plenty of spark and charm. A wry, thoughtful first novel with rewards in abundance.