One Fell Swoop: A Novel in Stories

One Fell Swoop: A Novel in Stories

by Virginia Boyd
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One Fell Swoop: A Novel in Stories by Virginia Boyd

The aftershocks of a murder-suicide resonate through a small town where everybody knows everybody else's business.

By turns hilarious and poignant, this daring, debut novel begins with the violent end of a marriage. A local wife-and-mother has killed her husband after finding him in the midst of an affair. Each chapter, written from a different community member's point of view, shows the ripple effect of that dramatic event and how it has affected the townspeople differently--some directly and others less so, but all meaningfully and irrevocably. As the novel progresses, the narrative spirals inward until the stories of those most intimately involved are ultimately revealed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595543998
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/09/2007
Pages: 307
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Novel in Stories
By Virginia Boyd

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2007 Virginia Boyd
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59554-399-8

Chapter One

IN THE END Sunday morning, August 1977

Mitchell MacKenzie sat fully upright, still dressed in yesterday's clothes, as he listened to an early morning chorus of bird song coming from his own backyard. He hadn't slept a wink. His eyes were dry and itchy and his breath so rank with stale nicotine it made him half-sick to smell it. Despite his condition, Mitch felt nothing but glory as he greeted the new day. It was great to be alive, especially on this particular Sunday in August, a day bound to become historic if Mitch's buddy Randy Fox did indeed follow through on his promise to confess all before God and country in the First United Methodist Church.

The prospect of bearing witness to such an event had lifted Mitch's spirits beyond belief. In fact, for the first time since he could remember, Mitch felt full to overflowing with marvel and wonder at the strange and mysterious workings of his very own existence. He and his world-and all the half-crazy fools living in it-were amazing. There was no way this life could get any better.

He opened his mouth and exhaled a lungful of air and willfully breathed it in through his nose. Putrid, yes, but powerful too. Such was the stuff of real human beings and the fantastically capricious world they occupied. This all tickled him to no end. For it was this cockamamie coexistence that had placed him, a thirty-eight-year-old admittedly not-so-perfect husband and father, happy as a lark last Friday afternoon sneaking a quickie in a motel on the outskirts of town, while not ten miles away Michael Clayton faced a firing squad in his own damn living room. She-it. There was no rhyme or reason. Two different men commit the same crime. One dies and the other goes on home to eat a spaghetti supper and feign interest in the details of his wife's boring day. But take it as you will, it was also this very same existence that had allowed Mitch to sit in this same spot on his back porch just last night and listen to Randy explain how he was going to come clean, in church no less, turn himself in as a habitual cheater.

The whole town was in an uproar over the Clayton murder/suicide. It had shaken them all up. These were their contemporaries. Everybody had known them, or so they had thought. It was not as if Mitch had been best friends with Michael, but they had played golf together a number of times, shared a few laughs, that kind of thing. There was also the Claytons' young son-Mike Jr.-who made it a crying shame. Mitch hated to think of his own kids growing up without their mama and daddy. It was a lot to take in and he hadn't had a chance yet really to decide what to make of it.

But now Randy, Randy appeared to have made up his mind all right. Poor boy seemed to have taken it all to heart-at least that's how some might describe his reaction. Others, well, they might just call it twisted. Mitch wasn't sure that in the sober light of day Randy wouldn't change his view. Randy was not known for his dependable nature. Yet, going through with it was also the kind of thing Mitch wouldn't put past him either. It was this unbearable tension between halfway wanting to egg Randy on and, at the same time, dreading the very thought of watching one of his own cohorts roast in public hell for committing a mutual crime, that had Mitch so riled up.

Conflicted, that was it. Mitch was so conflicted he didn't know which end was up. Throw into the mix an occasional twinge of something in the realm of guilt or remorse, and it was no wonder Mitch hadn't caught a lick of sleep.

It reminded him of the sleepless hours he spent as a tortured kid on Christmas Eve, obsessively reviewing his and his brother and sister's recent behavior. Part of him secretly yearned to see one of the worst disasters his child's mind could imagine-one of them left with a stocking filled with nothing but lumps of coal-while another part of him wished just as fervently for continued good luck, yet another graceful reprieve. But in the end, these dueling emotions only made his final enjoyment that much sweeter.

That's right. And he wasn't about to miss out on one of those rare moments today, wasn't going to miss it for the world. After all, Mitch had a plan. And hope. He had all kinds of that too.

* * *

Mitchell MacKenzie wasn't the only person in town who felt ambivalent about what the day would hold. The Reverend C.B. Cooper had been vacillating for weeks about the state of his own existence, his job, his purpose for being, and his rapidly dwindling inspiration to call others to worship. This Sunday's sermon was especially troubling, however-not because of C.B.'s own spiritual burnout or even because of the dime-sized canker sore on the back of his tongue that rubbed against his molars every time he spoke-this wasn't just one of your run-of-the-mill kinds of things. Two prominent Riley citizens-he thanked God they weren't members of his own congregation-had died, one on Friday and the other early last night. Mr. and Mrs. Michael Clayton. He had been the best accountant in town, and she, a quiet, respectable housewife until finally snapping Friday afternoon after catching him conjoined in an entirely inappropriate manner with his secretary splayed across the large oak desk in his inner office. Later that evening as Mr. Clayton, worn out no doubt from a taxing day at work, sipped spirits in his easy chair, the unassuming Mrs. Clayton took a turn and sent her husband to meet his maker with the aid of a Colt .45. C.B. wondered if it was her desire to be present for this particular reunion between husband and Host that inspired her to smite her own temple with the same weapon afterwards. Or maybe she felt culpable ... or repentant. Or maybe she just didn't give a damn. C.B. couldn't decide.

He, himself, was at a complete loss. He knew the entire town had been talking about the bizarre deaths of this couple ever since the first gunshot was heard echoing across the golf course. This is what people in a small Southern town do when life, death, and anything in-between happens-they proceed to make a casserole, don the appropriate attire, and get to talking all about it as soon as possible. This was a town where Storytelling was placed right up there in the Holy Trinity along with Good Food and Good Manners. So if tragedy struck and you were a community leader, you best be able to come up with one hell of a story, and it better offer some comfort and maybe an answer or two along the way.

First, he had considered something straightforward, an old-fashioned Bible-thumping lecture about the dangers of breaking any of the Ten Commandments. After all, it was true, they weren't named the Ten Suggestions for a reason. Thou shalt not kill was an obvious choice to begin with, but then things got a little sticky with Thou shalt not commit adultery and Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. He didn't want anyone to make the dangerous assumption that Regina's hand had somehow been guided by a vengeful God-that wasn't C.B.'s style. So, he decided to forego dire warnings of hell and damnation for a less judgmental and more forgiving tack.

For a while, he dallied with the idea of using Psalm 23: Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me.... He would paint a picture of a flock of sheep mindlessly chewing clover when the wolf's shadow, unseen and ominous, crossed their path. But no, too predictable and slightly insulting. He'd refer to a flock of birds instead, caught in mid-flight, the wind rushing through the steady beat of their many feathered wings when the shadow of a great dark hawk unexpectedly dims their vision. But before he had this metaphor completely worked out in his mind, his thoughts had flown to his own nagging doubts as well as those of his congregation. For just where, exactly, was He when stuff like this went on? Why did He stand back and watch as the wolf closed in for his kill and the hawk swooped in for his supper?

This train of thought led C.B. to push aside the idea of comfort in the face of death for an even better idea-the power of hope for resurrection-the acceptance of pain, death, and loss as necessary trials that must be endured in order for rebirth and true joy to take their place. Everybody had to pay their spiritual dues, ante up more or less. C.B. got a little excited about this concept, thought he was finally making some headway. Next, he decided he would turn to Lazarus and Jesus wept-the shortest and therefore most memorable Bible verse of all. He would set the scene describing Jesus' approach to the barren rock that loomed in his path and surrounded Lazarus's body in a dark, dusty, and seemingly impenetrable embrace. He would linger on those mourning Lazarus's death, those prostrate with fear and grief whose misery moved Jesus to tears. "Even though He knew He would raise Lazarus up and bring him back to life, He also knew that it would forever be man's lot to face the night before the dawn-to go down into darkness and death before rising up to meet the light of new life," C.B. would say. Then he could assure his congregation that God did indeed know what He was doing and this was all a part of His grand plan.

* * *

While Rev. Cooper had been diligently burning the midnight oil on Saturday night, Mitch had been busy contemplating the same situation from an entirely different perspective. It had been late, well after suppertime, the kids long gone to bed. Anne was watching TV in the den when he stepped out to smoke a quick cigarette on the back porch and heard quiet steps crunch up the gravel drive and then a light knock on the screened porch door. It was Randy, four sheets to the wind. Mitch didn't think he'd ever seen Randy that drunk.

"Saw your light," Randy managed to slur between obviously numb lips. "Mind if I come in? Got something on my mind, but it's got to stay between you and me. Least until tomorrow."

"Sure," Mitch said. "Come on, have a seat."

After he collapsed in an oversized rocker and generously offered Mitch a slug of the rotgut he was carrying wrapped in a brown paper bag, Randy got straight to the point. "Mitch," he said, "Mitch, tell you what, I got myself in a bit of a pickle here. Though I believe I've figured a way to get myself out. But I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to run it by somebody else first."

"What's the problem?" Mitch offered.

"Well, of course it's on account of this business here with Michael. You know, he wasn't really such a bad guy, now was he?"

"Naw, I don't reckon he was," said Mitch. "Honestly though, I can't say I knew him all that well ..."

"But what's to know, right?" Randy interrupted. "I mean he worked, he provided for his family and he had a five handicap. So he got a little nooky on the side-not all that many people knew it. But now right here, this is where we get to my situation-to me and mine."

Randy took another fortifying swig that leaked out the corner of his mouth and ran down the side of his neck. Then he lost his train of thought for a minute. His gaze focused on something in the far off distance until he swatted at the side of his own face, which seemed to bring him back around. "It's Debra I'm worried about. You think she'd do somethinglikethattome?"

"Like Regina did to Michael?"

"Yeah," Randy sighed. "Like that."

"Well buddy, you've hardly been discreet," Mitch felt obliged to point out. "You've built a reputation on telling about your conquests-how Lorna Everette refused to take off her high heels and garter belt, the way Nadine Ellis always called you cowboy and begged you to tie her hands to the bedpost, and that thing Dena Potter had for chocolate pudding and making you paint her toenails afterwards-I mean, who hadn't you told?"

"I know, I know, that's what I'm saying," Randy said as he rubbed his hand over his face.

"Well then, she's bound to know."

"You think?" Randy looked at Mitch from between his big-knuckled fingers.

"You know her better than I do, Randy. Come on, think yourself, man." Mitch tapped out a fresh cigarette. "Has she ever said anything?"

"Naw, she hadn't." Randy appeared fairly confident in ruling that one out.

"How about given you any kind of 'look'?"

"What do you mean, 'look'?" Randy said in a startled voice.

"You know, like she's suspicious. Or wants to blow your freaking brains out or something like that."

"Naw ... nooooo ... she hasn't ... well ... if she has I hadn't known it ... But you see here, that's my whole problem. You know how women are. They look one way and say one thing and you think well fine, okay. But the whole time she may be thinking, you do this again, damn it, and I'm gonna kick your ass. You think Michael knew what he was in for? You think he had any idea how hard she was going to take it?"

"That, my friend, we'll never know," Mitch answered between deep drags on his cigarette. "Of course, he was caught directly," Mitch added as possible consolation. "Clearly, Regina knew exactly what was going on."

"But caught is caught," Randy said in a broken voice as if he were about to sob. "Besides, there were two things my daddy always warned me never to underestimate-the power of fresh bait and a woman's imagination."

Randy reached for his bottle again and tipped it upwards as if in homage to some greater force. When he gestured toward Mitch before putting the cap back on, Mitch said "what the hell" and took a swig of his own. The liquor torched a trail down Mitch's insides and burned its way up the back of his nose.

"That does it then," Randy said while screwing the cap back on. "I don't have a choice, not much a one-I'magonnahavetodo what I'magonnahavetodo." Mitch thought Randy was slipping into nonsense which wasn't all that surprising considering his condition. Randy sort of sang the "todo" parts as if he were starting to enjoy himself. But then he stopped playing around and directed his bloodshot gaze right at Mitch's eyes. He took a deep breath that lifted his chest and straightened his posture a bit and said very clearly, "I am going to confess."

"What do you mean, confess?"

"Tell it. Tell all that Big Randy and Little Randy have been up to in our spare time."

"Are you kidding me?" Mitch chuckled and shook his head. "Tell it to Debra? Have you lost your ever-loving mind?"

"To Debra and the church." Randy nodded as he rolled in his lips and clamped them tightly together.

"Son of a bitch," Mitch said. He laughed outright, a belly laugh that brought real tears to his eyes and made his side ache. He could just see it all. Picturing the whole scene made him laugh even harder. It was too good. When he finally started slowing down and had a chance to catch his breath he said, "Slick, you must be drunk. All you need to do is sleep it off. That's what you need to do-sleep off this strange fit that has come over you."

"I told you, I've been thinking about this all day. You don't know what I've been going through. I can't sleep. Not in my own bed, not even after a few nightcaps and a handful of Excedrin PMs. Every time she shifts in her sleep, rolls over or gets up to go to the bathroom, my heart pounds so loud it sounds like somebody's beating a drum upside my head. You know a lot of women shoot their husbands in bed. It's not all that uncommon. You might be surprised. I read a case one time about this woman who shot her husband with the gun he kept under his pillow, just reached under there and blew a hole through his head."

"You don't keep a gun under your pillow, do you?"

"No sir, but I've had it. I'm through spending all my time worrying over what she's lying there thinking, wondering if she's busy dreaming about what I've been doing and how she's finally going to make me pay, do me in just like Regina did Michael. If I'm going down, I'm going down fighting. I'm going to tell it all tomorrow, in church, before she gets a chance to off me in my sleep. If I say it all in front of the church, then I'm saved, you see. And Debra will believe she's been the one that saved me. She'll have to forgive me. Isn't that what every woman really wants-to save some man who would be good if only she could get him straightened out?"

"You can't be serious." Mitch tried to sound reasonable as he stubbed out the end of his cigarette.

"Serious as a heart attack."

"Now, Randy." Mitch adopted a tone of voice his own father had often used on him. "Son, this is big. I mean real big. People just don't go around telling these kinds of things this way. Who knows what all this could bring about. For instance, how do you know for sure if Debra's going to react the way you say she will?"


Excerpted from ONE FELL SWOOP by Virginia Boyd Copyright © 2007 by Virginia Boyd. 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.

Table of Contents


Ashley Clayton Michael and Regina's granddaughter....................ix
In the End Sunday morning, August 1977....................1
Noah Riddle a retiree, who lives on the outskirts of town August 1977....................35
Whitney Elliot Vaughn a young mother, who works downtown at the department store makeup counter August 1977....................49
Troy Matthews husband of Delma, a local hairdresser 1979....................61
Pearl Newby a widow, who frequently visits the country-club neighborhood where the Claytons lived 1980....................75
Jackie Hunt twelve-year-old daughter of Bonnie and Jeff Hunt, who lives down the street from the Claytons' house 1977....................83
Bucky Macrae a friend of Mike Jr. Hunting season, 1977....................97
Casey Hart a writer for the local newspaper, who is in the midst of a divorce August 1977....................113
Suzanne Hunt Jackie's little sister 1977....................131
Tate Gibson one of the Claytons' next-door neighbors 1978....................147
Cindy Worthington the other woman 1978....................165
Mike Jr. Michael and Regina's son August 2007....................203
Michael Clayton Friday, August 1977....................229
Regina Clayton Friday, August 1977....................247
At the Beginning One week later Saturday afternoon, August 1977....................267
Interview with the Author....................301

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One Fell Swoop: A Novel in Stories 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In One Fell Swoop a murder/suicide is reflected upon by a variety of townspeople from different vantage points in time, including that of the murdered philanderer and his killer wife and their orphaned son. The portraits of the Claytons are sensitive and tender. We follow all three victims of this crime as they reach back into their childhoods to make sense of their lives. Each voice (each chapter) is distinctive. Local journalist Casey reflects on her breaking marriage. Her husband's failures to show up for dinner at first are accompanied by apologies but, after a while, he is "angry and sullen as if each night I was intentionally setting him up to fail." All the children in this novel of voices are stunningly eloquent yet authentic. Suzanne has "quit walking on sidewalks" for fear of the harm caused by stepping on cracks in pavement. She says of the Claytons, "Maybe they never even noticed all the cracks in their sidewalk, a river of bad luck running right up to their front door." The novel is peppered throughout with great images, wisdom, and wry humor. One of my favorite lines come near the end when bride-to-be Dawn, not known for self-reflection, muses, "It was even possible to live outside of the South. Other people did." When I closed the book, I wanted to hear from more of Riley's residents.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
On a hot August day in 1977, a murder-suicide upset life in the small town of Riley, North Carolina. Regina Clayton has shot and killed her husband after finding him in the arms of his mistress. She then takes her own life, as well. The account of this event is told through a collection of interconnected short stories. In each chapter, a different townsperson tells a piece of the story from their viewpoint, using their own voice. The time frame for these stories range from before the murder-suicide to 30 years after. Ms. Boyd has exquisitely created a beautifully-written, engaging story. She did a brilliant job crafting a compelling cast of intriguing characters who completely captivated me. Each had a story to tell and their different perspectives were enthralling. As I read, I found I could relate to many of them in different ways. In addition, she successfully evoked the mood of a small southern town in the throes of a difficult situation. I truly loved this wonderful story and I highly recommend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone can relate to this tale of a small town tragedy and how it affects the lives of different town citizens. We hear from children to adults and their individual interpretationa of the event and how they are impacted. We see in them bits of people we all know. Virginia's characters are real. The reader will laugh out loud with these people. A truly enjoyable story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have ever been part of a circle of close friends, neighbors, or relatives, you will enjoy this book. The characters and events could have easily existed in the small town where I was raised. Virginia Boyd developed each character so real and deeply that I felt like they were talking directly to me and I was inside their heads. I smiled and cried and couldn¿t put down the book. I always enjoy discovering new talented authors and can¿t wait for the next book from this gifted writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was captivated by this book from the very beginning, which is laugh-out-loud funny. Throughout the book the characterizations are excellent, evoking wonderful images and memories. There is a wide range of viewpoints tied together by the central theme of the book. Imagery and dialogue are exceptional. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story well- told.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I finished reading ONE FELL SWOOP, I found myself immediatley re-reading some of the characters, especially Regina and the stories her mother told her. The use of the nightinggale, the stiching, the fantasy world Regina's mother creates touched me more than any of the many other intriguing characters. The novel speaks to me as a Southerner who often struggles with being from the South, as a reader of good fiction, as an admirer of anyone who loves writing and has the 'guts' to stick with it, as a lover of Faulkner's 'The Sound and The Fury' as well as 'As I Lay Dying.' These characters will stay with me, and I will read this novel again--a sign of how much I love this beautifully written work. The wonderfully developed characters, the levels of meaning, the poetic language which I found so touching will bring me back to it again and again.