cover image Fat Lightning

Fat Lightning

Howard Owen. Permanent Press (NY), $24 (181pp) ISBN 978-1-877946-41-7

Owen's first novel, 1992's Littlejohn , was a subtle, pleasant surprise. His second is equally fine, a multigenerational saga that echoes the plot of its predecessor but also resonates with imagery invoking the spiritual tradition of such Southern writers as Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. Set in Virginia in 1971 and in the present, the story is told primarily from the perspective of Nancy Chastain, who's struggling with attempts to become a writer and with a problematic second marriage to Sam, a Richmond pharmacist. When Sam suddenly quits his job and hauls Nancy and their toddler son off to the semirural burg of Monacan, she must deal with the vagaries of the odd, stoic Chastain family. The thorniest relative proves to be Sam's crusty uncle, Lot, whose farm becomes a local tourist attraction when a convergence of evening sun and shadow produces a crucifixion image on the side of his barn. Deftly weaving together family history and conflict against a backdrop of religious mysticism, the author plays out Nancy's infidelities and Sam's midlife crisis, while Lot attempts to reconcile his past anger and misogyny with the attentions of Sebara Tatum, a black preacher out to fleece the old man while extracting a profit from the visitors who flock to see ``Jesus on the Barn.'' Owen, who doubles as the sports editor for the Richmond Times Dispatch , makes everything work except a gratuitous epilogue; this wise, warm and deeply satisfying story should further brighten his rising star. (Aug.)