From critically acclaimed author Steve Yarbrough comes this riveting, beautifully nuanced, new novel of life in a small town.
After twenty-five years away and an illicit scandal in California, Dr. Pete Barrington is returning home to Loring, Mississippi, where football rules and religious piety mingles uncomfortably with darker human impulses. Though Barrington sets up a small practice and finds solace in an old friend, his wife, Angela, and daughter, Toni, are having trouble adjusting. Also, Barrington's homecoming has awakened difficult memories for Alan DePoyster, a former high school classmate and now a pillar of the community, who blames Barrington for tearing apart his family. When DePoyster's son and Barrington's daughter begin a fledgling relationship, the children are forced to pay for their parents' sins, and things take a disastrous, even shocking turn.
Yarbrough returns to Loring, Miss. (setting of his acclaimed Prisoners of War and Visible Spirits), to examine the intersecting lives of two contemporary family men in this sensitive but powerful smalltown portrait of sex, religion and other human passions. Following an explosive sex scandal, successful physician Pete Barrington flees California, with wife Angela and their teenage daughter in tow, for the Southern town he left 25 years before. There he encounters Alan Depoyster, another native son, now managing a Piggly Wiggly and caring for a wife and teenager of his own. Alan, a devout Christian, holds a grudge from their high school days, when Alan's mother carried on an affair with Pete. Shortly thereafter, Alan's dad deserted them, and Pete escaped Loring on a Fresno State football scholarship. As circumstances bring the Barringtons and Depoysters closer, and evidence of Pete and Angela's continuing sexual indiscretions come to light, rage and jealousy lead Alan to shocking measures, setting up the book's suspenseful, shattering second half. Yarbrough gives each character in his slow-burning drama the complex emotional scars of broken marriage and, more importantly, the space and voice with which to explore them. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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July 09, 2007
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Excerpt from The End of California by Steve Yarbrough
A SOURCE YOU CAN TRUST
Under the circumstances, he told himself, speeding made sense. He'd driven down through the San Joaquin Valley at eighty and eighty-five, crossed the Mojave with the Volvo's air conditioner blasting and the needle on the dash nudging ninety. Through Kingman, Flagstaff and Winslow, Gallup and Albuquerque, Amarillo, the vast nothingness of western Oklahoma, clean across Arkansas and over the Greenville bridge, and he'd seen more state police officers, deputy sheriffs and plain old small-town cops than he could have calculated, even if calculation came naturally to him, which recent events had proven it did not. None of them stopped him. It was as if they understood that while anybody who lived in California had good reason for wanting to distance himself from its borders, his reasons were better than most.
They hadn't been in Mississippi for more than three or four minutes before a gray patrol car pulled out of the lot at a bait shop and attached itself to their rear bumper. He glanced at Angela: stoic and silent, the picture of stillness, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Had she taken them off a single time since they left Fresno? If so, he didn't recall it. He'd noticed her wearing them in the motel room last night.
In the backseat, Toni said, "I think you'd better pull over."
"I think you're right, hon," he said, and stopped on the shoulder next to a cotton field where a young black guy was spraying herbi- cide from a Hi-Boy. Leaving the engine running and the air on, he climbed out and shut the door. Wet heat enveloped him in its familiar embrace.
The state trooper, a woman, was somewhere between thirty-five and forty. Trim and tan, with sandy brown hair and delicate hands that looked too small to wield the weapon riding her right hip. She tipped her own sunglasses up, and he saw a smooth lump below her left eye, the skin perceptibly discolored.
Her voice was husky but not abrupt or unpleasant. "You're a long way from home."
"Yes ma'am. I guess you could say that."
"Could I see your license?"
He pulled his wallet out, withdrew the license and handed it to her.
"Fresno. That's cotton country too, isn't it?"
She glanced inside the station wagon, nodded at Angela and Toni, then looked through the back glass into the cargo compartment, which in addition to luggage contained two computers, a couple printers, a bunch of medical books and the records from his former practice. "Moving?" she said.
"Actually, we are."
"Mind if I ask where?"
"Yes ma'am. The fact is, I grew up there."
She examined the license again. "Barrington," she said. "There are some folks by that name in Greenville."
"They're not kin to me, but I played football against one of them in high school."
"That'd probably be Carl, I'm guessing."
"He's tending bar now at the Holiday Inn. I used to stop in there from time to time with my husband. Carl likes to pour big ones."
"He was a pretty big guy, if I recall right. Not a bad ballplayer, either."
Something had disturbed her. Frowning, she looked through the window again--first at Angela, then at Toni, then at the stuff piled up in the back. She fingered the license once more. "Mr. Barrington," she said, "you were driving way too fast."
"Yes ma'am, I know that."
"Tell me this was an isolated incident."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't do that. The truth is, I probably slowed down some when I crossed the bridge. Just out of relief at finally getting where I was going. I've been driving like a bat out of hell for three days."
Her nose wrinkled as if she'd just inhaled an unwholesome odor. "Is something wrong?" she asked. "Why would anybody in this situation say anything like that?"
He'd ask himself the same question later. The best answer he could come up with was that a bunch of factors had converged to render him incapable of deceit. It also had something to do with her open, pleasant manner, the feel of that damp air on his skin, the sight of the black guy on the Hi-Boy, engaged with a fate that could have been his own. "I don't know," he said. "I've said and done a lot I can't explain."
Moving decisively, she led him some distance away--he was following her before he knew it. Halfway between the Volvo and the cruiser, she turned to face him, lifted the sunglasses off altogether and stuck them in her pocket. "You're driving a nice car," she said. "You've got what looks like your family in there. Is that who they are?"
"How old's the girl?"
"You mind if I ask what your profession is?"
"I'm a doctor."
The words were easy to pronounce but hard to say. "Family practice."
She'd begun to sweat. Rivulets ran down the bridge of her nose and trickled over the unsightly lump beneath her eye.