Monday, January 02, 2006

The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole

Stephanie Doyon's Cedar Hole is a town where, "when a person rose above the lot, everyone else looked around and thought they were sinking. Balance had to be restored, and if fate didn't see to it, the citizens of Cedar Hole took it upon themselves to make sure that victory and defeat were served up in equal portions." Francis "Spud" Pinkham learns this lesson as well if not better than anyone. As the youngest of 10 children, and the only boy, he suffers at the hands of his nine tomboy sisters, most especially from their ringleader, Jackie, the oldest and biggest hellion of them all. But while he fears Jackie, he simply dislikes his classmate Robert Cutler. Robert is the town's golden boy, one who seems destined for greater things, but for whom Cedar Hole is nevertheless the center of the universe. It is his image against whom all others in town are compared and found lacking. Spud is able to get by in life, but with the constant lessons his sisters provide, he never becomes too comfortable -- imminent misfortune is always to be expected. When fortune finally seems to shine down on him when he's in his mid-30s, Francis cannot trust his luck, to his wife's and children's frustration.

Cedar Hole is a small town that's provincial in its outlook and unlike anywhere I've ever lived. At the same time, I can't help but feel that it conveys a genuine feel of small-town America. Doyon breathes life into the the stock characters, from the town's Chief Wiggum-like police officer, to the school's fourth-grade teacher; and into the petty disputes and personal relationships. Reading of Spud as a child and teen is a delight. As an adult, after he's been made small by the life he's lived, it's somewhat painful yet wholly captivating.

With most books, I get caught up in the plot and never stop until I reach the end. Here I was far more deliberate. At no point did I ever want to put the book away -- I just put it down for spells so I could savor it.

Rating: 9/10.