Culver, a mild-mannered and likable young teen growing up in a small Northwestern town, is trying to sort out a great deal of confusing stuff: his father's drowning death; the bigotry evident against local Indians; his mother's dislike for his charismatic Uncle Jake; the way his outlaw stepfather, wanted for torching a railroad compound, keeps popping in and out of his life. Culver's interests run to the physical-basketball, fly-fishing and working at his uncle's bait-and-tackle shop. It's there that he receives an informal education at the feet of a group of men-dubbed the ``backroom boys'' by narrator Culver-who hang around the store and who include a cropduster, a glue-mixer at the local lumber mill, a baker, a local radio personality and an enigmatic Indian sheriff. Culver is seduced by the group's easy joviality and his Uncle Jake's heroic streak, which manifests when a fire claims the mill. But the boy discovers a secret involving his dead father that drives a wedge between himself and his uncle, and that threatens to make an adult out of him before his time. Lesley (Winterkill) is a smooth and talented writer, with a pleasing touch for detail and an unwavering confidence. His material tends to the sentimental: his central metaphor, a skyful of invented constellations as related to Culver by Uncle Jake, is an easy image, neither compelling nor powerful. But Culver is an unusually appealing character, and when the novel's close toes a maudlin line, it feels almost earned. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1995 Release date: 08/01/1995 Genre: Fiction
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