cover image Where Trouble Sleeps

Where Trouble Sleeps

Clyde Edgerton. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $18.95 (280pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-061-7

Antic humor and respect for his characters' dignity are, as usual, present in Edgerton's portrayals of the eccentrics in his seventh novel, a slyly satiric and artful story about a fugitive who underestimates the inhabitants of the small Southern town of Listre, N.C. Fleeing Alabama in a stolen Buick Eight, Jack Umstead stops in Listre (a sister community to the settings of Raney, Walking Across Egypt, etc.) where, in 1950, a new blinking traffic light signals modern progresss. Cannily sizing up the townsfolk, he attempts to discover the places where their money might be hidden. Umstead learns just enough about the area to concoct a background for himself (they're suspicious, though: nobody calls the nearby hamlet of T.R. ""Traveler's Rest"" anymore) and cozies up to the locals by checking on a bulldog named Trouble, whose choice of snoozing place (naps inside the store mean rain) is the closest thing the town has to the Weather Channel. Edgerton gracefully switches the narrator's point of view (often to great comic effect) among Umstead, three aging sisters who run a store, a teenage girl and a mature woman both taken in by Umstead, a self-righteous preacher helpless with lust for the same teenage girl and a nameless Omniscience that may or may not have anything to do with the God of these Christ-haunted characters. Whether through cunning, bashful or averted eyes, Edgerton reveals the innocent, the deluded and the hypocritical with an unerring sense of humor and truth. By the bittersweet finale, he has deftly captured the chameleon ways of the stranger in town and signaled some gently ephiphanic moments for the people whose lives the man has touched. (Sept.)