Dwight Allen, Author . Algonquin $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-56512-369-4

The eponymous judge of Allen's debut novel is William Dupree, a federal district court justice in western Kentucky, a soft-spoken, compassionate, upstanding gentleman in the Southern tradition—if you don't count his unexpected liberal bent. Dupree dies at the novel's opening, in January 2001, at the age of 82. He leaves behind a family in disarray. Mary Louise, the judge's hypochondriac widow, drifts like "a little boat on a big sea," as she puts it. Anxious and not easily affectionate, she's had a difficult marriage with the judge, though he always stood by her. Crawford, the older of their sons, is a law school dropout and heavy drinker, on his second marriage. His younger brother Morgan is an aspiring—yet sparsely published—writer who moves from New York back to their hometown to write a book about his father. Morgan is having an affair with Crawford's ex-wife, Colleen, a veterinarian "who was beautiful with and without her glasses." Lucy, the judge's loyal clerk, mourns him as well as her own dwindling personal and professional prospects. Shortly before his death, she stole a kiss from the judge, their only dalliance in all the years she worked for him. Allen's characters are likably flawed and drawn with a delicate, subtle hand ("Crawford sometimes thought he had picked Michelle, following his unsuccessful first marriage, because she would let him get away with being loving only when the mood was upon him. And he had rewarded her, if that was the right term, with thirteen years of almost complete loyalty"). Add to this his assured prose (a character's nightgown is "the color of the moon, as colored by a child bearing down hard with a silver Crayola"), and the book is a quietly moving accomplishment. Agent, Betsy Amster. Author tour. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/07/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!