cover image The Floatplane Notebooks

The Floatplane Notebooks

Clyde Edgerton. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $16.95 (265pp) ISBN 978-0-945575-00-9

In his third novel (after Raney and Walking Through Egypt ), Edgerton again demonstrates his ability to reveal character through sharply etched dialogue and wildly hilarious circumstance. He also achieves a deeper resonance in this story of the blue-collar Copeland family of North Carolina. The voices of various narrators produce a composite family portrait that takes the Copelands from the placid summer of 1956 to the Vietnam War years of the '60s. In Edgerton's deceptively simple prose, we learn about such traditions as grave-cleaning day, the annual hunting trip to Florida and Albert Thatcher's ongoing, seemingly doomed efforts to construct a floatplane with aluminum pontoons. Another narrative voicethat of the wisteria vine that overruns the graveyardalso imparts family secrets; this, however, is a labored device that hampers credibility. In all other respects, the novel is absorbing as the voices obliquely reveal family relationships, personality clashes, sibling rivalry and small-town social mores. But the tale becomes gripping and wrenchingly vivid when Meredith Copeland and his cousin Mark Oakley enlist in the military and are sent to Southeast Asia. Here, too, is when the reader discovers that Edgerton is not a predictable writer; he turns our expectations head over heels, showing how circumstances can change character in surprising ways. This is a mature novel in which Edgerton's subtle mastery of his craft is made increasingly clear. BOMC featured selection; QPBC alternate. (September)