cover image The Long Home

The Long Home

William Gay. MacAdam/Cage Publishing, $24.95 (257pp) ISBN 978-1-878448-91-0

Gay's debut, an ambitious saga of love and retribution set in backwoods Georgia in the 1950s, is by turns quaint and charged--and sometimes both. The novel begins with the 1932 murder of Nathan Winer, an honest and virtuous laborer, by Dallas Hardin, a corrupt small-town tycoon, after Winer demands that Hardin move his illegal whiskey still off Winer's land. Hardin gradually gains control of his community through extortion, bribery and psychological manipulation. When the dead man's son, also Nathan, unwittingly becomes a carpenter for his father's murderer many years afterwards, he finds his life bound with Hardin's as he falls in love with seductive beauty Amber Rose, frequently used by Hardin as an escort for his rich acquaintances. Ancient sage and recluse William Tell Oliver, who witnessed the elder Nathan's death and has the victim's skull to prove it, steps in to rectify old wrongs when Hardin threatens to kill the young Winer to maintain control over Amber Rose. A haze of mystery hangs over the narrative: voices whisper and strange lights shine from deep within swampy forests, testifying to the presence of a force more powerful than any petty human tyrant. Strange characters inhabit Gay's world, too, like a boy who thinks baby pigs come from underground or a traveling salesman who brags about his largesse but lives off of Winer's mother. Though his dialogue may sometimes be too twangy, Gay writes well-crafted prose that unfolds toward necessary (if occasionally unexpected) conclusions. Enhanced by his feeling for country rhythms and a pervasive, biblical sense of justice, Gay's take on the Southern morality tale is skillfully achieved, if familiar in its scope. (Nov.)