The Vietnam War casts its long shadow over a small Wisconsin town in this second novel by Babcock (Martha Calhoun), which chronicles the dramatic intersection of the lives of two vastly different characters, wealthy criminal attorney G. Bowman Epps and high school athlete Ginger Piper. As narrated by Charlie Stewart, a longtime associate of the lawyer, the story of this unlikely friendship unfolds slowly but deliberately. Bow has a well-earned reputation as a gifted barrister capable of defending the slimiest of criminals, and Ginger is a teenage star from the wrong side of the tracks, but their differences are erased when they meet in the spring of 1966, after Ginger gives a moving eulogy for a high school friend killed in Vietnam. Bow sees Ginger's potential and becomes his mentor, as chronicled in a series of masterful scenes. When Gary Fontenot, a convict defended by Bow, escapes and is found dead nearby, evidence surfaces that Ginger may have helped him flee. As a result, Bow's reputation is tarnished and his friendship with Ginger is strained. After barely surviving his legal woes, Ginger, who had joined the antiwar movement in the area, finds himself facing one crisis after another in the conservative town until he enlists in the army and is shipped off to Vietnam. Babcock's plot is familiar, but carefully crafted characters with meaningful inner lives and distinctive voices keep the reader engaged, and the story builds up to a quiet and powerful conclusion. Babcock accurately and sensitively captures a fraught historical moment and its devastating impact on all of the people who lived it. (Nov.)
Forecast:Regional interest in the Midwest—where Babcock is the editor-in-chief of Chicago magazine—should jump-start sales for this strong sophomore effort.