cover image Round Rock

Round Rock

Michelle Huneven / Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (296p) ISBN 978-

""Among the inhabitants of the Santa Bernita Valley, it is commonly believed that nothing there ever goes according to plan."" So begins this delightful, bittersweet first novel about three of the central California Valley's hapless inhabitants and the lives they make--by accident--together. Ex-lawyer and recovering alcoholic Red Ray runs a halfway house for ex-boozers a few miles outside the little town of Rito, in the Valley's rural eastern end; abandoned by her hotshot architect husband, ex-housewife Libby Daw moves into a trailer and makes ends meet working for the local AA chapter; blacked-out ex-grad student Lewis Fletcher wakes up one morning far from home, in the Ventura County detox center and, with one too many alcohol-related offenses against his name, finds himself an unwilling prisoner of Round Rock, Red's drunk farm. With a gentle hand reminiscent of E. Annie Proulx or Anne Tyler, Huneven brings these three lonely exes together in a bumbling triangle of affections that is at once unmistakably contemporary and familiar, attentive (if not always obedient) to the conventions of literary melodrama. As in most good comic novels--tear-jerkers included--the question ""Who will end up with whom?"" shades imperceptibly into the more interesting question ""How?"" Huneven has a gift for rendering grownup characters who keep growing up credibly (and quickly) before our eyes. There is nothing outwardly dazzling in her method--no breathtaking prose or startling wit, no perfectly tidy twisting to the plot--just a deep, intelligent sympathy for people whose lives matter to the reader. That is the quiet triumph of this novel, and for that, it stands out as one of the season's more promising debuts. (July)