Friday, May 11, 2012

A Small Town Called Goliath

Susan Woodring heeded sage writing advice when she began her new novel Goliath: Get the reader's attention quickly. The book opens as fifteen-year-old Vincent Bailey discovers the body of Percy Harding, owner of Harding Furniture, dead by the railroad tracks.

The story that follows weaves together an ensemble cast of the townspeople, all affected by the death and the subsequent decline of the town's main employer. The central character Rosamond Rogers had worked as Harding's personal secretary, plucked from the mailing room years before. She is anything but an insider in Goliath, however. Deserted years before by her husband, a traveling salesman, she has lived on the outskirts of town society, something of an old fashioned woman, one who still not only owns white gloves but wears them, one who names her only daughter Agnes.

While Rosamond holds the narrative together, Woodring peoples the story with just the sort of believable but quirky people one would expect to find in a small one-industry North Carolina town. Rosamond's daughter Agnes drops out of college and a "boy husband" Rosamond had never met, whom Agnes informally married after meeting him in class.

The teenagers at the local high school also play a central role. A group of girls begin to write "suicide poems" supporting the right to choose to die, upsetting the rest of the towns people--and inspiring their English teacher to begin a poetry unit. One girl decides to read every book in the town's limited stacks, spending her days there. Vincent connects with Cassie, a girl from the trailer park whose poem catches his attention, and the two begin a small crime spree through town.

The town's churches seem to coexist peaceably, none able to dispel the town's superstitions, and even the established churches, several flavors of Baptist, not only tolerate but accept Ray Winston, who has been a street preacher in town since he was thirteen and his mother died.

While he focuses on saving souls, his father, Clyde Winston, Goliath's police chief and Rosamond's neighbor, dreams of saving Goliath, his solution a town baseball game. At the same time, Rosamond and her Aunt Mia undertake plans to revive the town parade.

Following the truism that there are only two plots--a boy leaves home or a stranger comes to town, Woodring's plot introduces two strangers, one Agnes' young husband arriving to try to win her back, sleeping in his car in Rosamond's driveway, and the other, Rosamond's missing husband, Agnes' father Hatley.

With her ensemble cast and clever use of shifting third-person perspective, Woodring builds to a climax, moving the story through the town on the day of the parade and ballgame, seamlessly weaving together the lives of the residents of this dying small town.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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