THE LAST GOOD CHANCE

Thomas Barbash, Author, Tom Barbash, Author . Picador $24 (448p) ISBN 978-0-312-28796-2

Barbash shows himself to be a knowing guide to smalltown politics in a first novel with extraordinary empathic reach. Steven Turner is a young journalist exiled at a paper in Lakeland, a decaying port town in rural upstate New York. His best friend, Jack Lambeau, is the Lakeland town planner. An ambitious Ivy League graduate, Lambeau had had difficulty advancing his experimental urban planning ideas in New York City. When Lakeland's mayor, William Hickey, promised him carte blanche for his New Urbanist–style visions, Lambeau agreed to return to his hometown. With evangelical fervor, he tries to revive Lakeland through a glittering lakefront development project. What he doesn't know, and what the mayor does, is that there are tubs of toxic materials illegally dumped under the lakefront. Soon Turner gets wind of this situation. Should he report it and risk shutting down Lambeau's project? Turner's position is complicated by his secret affair with Lambeau's wife, Anne, a painter. The novel shuttles between Lambeau's compromises with the mayor, Turner's ethical dilemma and Anne's creative and spiritual ennui, all explored in clipped, hard-boiled prose with a dash of black humor ("[Turner] banged out his daily like a good soldier and then his Sunday feature, a fluff-puff about a family in the woods who farmed maple syrup for a living. He'd learned everything you could find out about tree sap in the morning and 'tapped' it out that evening. This was his life"). This is a taut, intricate vision of ambition, corruption and love in the postindustrial era. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/05/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
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