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Sunday, January 28, 2007

This novel is a collection of vignettes about various residents of Listre, a one-intersection town in North Carolina. The story loosely follows the doings of the Toomey family, 7-year old Stephen and his parents, as well as Jack Umstead, a smooth-talking drifter who drives into town in a stolen Buick and bides his time until he can steal some cash before moving on. The pace is slow, the events unremarkable (except at the end), but the snapshots are accurate and humane.

Alease Toomey is an interesting and nuanced character. On one hand, she is very concerned with propriety and upright behavior, and perhaps is overly zealous in instilling moral convictions in her son Stephen. She takes him to see the electric chair at the local prison to show him what happens to immoral people, for example. She wants very much to see Stephen saved and near the end of the book, observes with relief that he’s responded to an altar call and accepted Jesus. So her worldview seems a little rigid and judgmental. Yet at many points she skillfully balances compassion and discipline in her relationship to Stephen, acting in love for his good, sustaining a home life that makes him feel secure and beloved. Alease also deplores her brother’s dependence on alcohol, but patiently cares for him when he is unable to care for himself again and again.

Pastor Crenshaw is also interesting, although somewhat less transparent than Alease. He finds himself tempted by a sexy young woman. I thought his mental and spiritual struggle against lust was authentic: the unwanted thoughts, the frequent indulgence in them, the emotional disturbance, the repeated repentance, the continued striving. Jack Umstead is a snake but also human; often ignoble, but capable of kindness. Here, so many of the neighbors’ foibles are on display. Not a very important book, perhaps, but useful as a healthy reminder of human fallibility and preciousness.

Title:Where Trouble Sleeps
Author:Clyde Edgerton
Date published:1997
Number of pages:260


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