cover image The Old Place

The Old Place

Bobby Finger. Putnam, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-42234-2

Finger debuts with an engaging story of a former high school math teacher and the secrets that catch up with her. After 40 years in the Billington, Tex., school district, Mary Alice Roth is forced into retirement. Prickly and adrift, she rekindles a dormant friendship with her neighbor Ellie Hall. Decades earlier, divorcée Ellie moved next door and became fast friends with Mary Alice, by then a widow, as did their same-age sons. Then, after their sons’ high school graduation in 2002, a drunk driver killed Ellie’s son Kenny. News of the death of Mary Alice’s son, Michael, spread through town shortly after, though the cause went “unspoken” by Mary Alice. Now, Mary Alice’s estranged sister, Katherine, arrives, bringing news that Michael is in fact alive, and has shown up drunk at her home in Atlanta. The revelation upends Mary Alice’s exacting plans for the town’s annual picnic. The years of hiding the truth catch up with Mary Alice, as does her husband’s covered-up suicide. Though the narrative tends to meander, and some of the twists are telegraphed early, Finger has a firm handle on Billington’s complex and stifling social dynamics. Fans of small-town yarns will find much to like. Agent: Kate McKean, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. (Sept.)