Saturday, June 04, 2011

Collins' Lost Souls is a dark but honest portrait of a small Midwestern town

Book 59:  Lost Souls by Michael Collins

The petri dish of small town America has always been a rich source of experimentation and exploration for writers. 

In this unrelentingly bleak 2003 novel, Irish writer Michael Collins, who now calls America home, trods ground previously covered by authors as diverse as Sinclair Lewis and Grace Metalious, to uncover a malignant strain of greed, boosterism and fundamentalist Christianity.

On Halloween, a three-year-old girl wanders away from her home. Her body is later found beneath a covering of leaves along the roadside. There is reason to believe that the quarterback of the high school football team may know something about her death.  

But the mayor -- who owns a used car lot -- doesn't want the quarterback implicated. Through his leadership, the team is poised to capture an elusive state championship, which can put this small Indiana town back on the map.

There's also a promising college and professional career to think about.

Lawrence, a small town cop with big problems, is recruited by the mayor and police chief to clear the young man. It is hinted that Lawrence, who is divorced, depressed and deeply in debt, will be made police chief when the current chief retires later in the year. "Everything in this town works together," says the mayor, "or it doesn't work at all."

And so the cover up begins. The lessons we learned from Watergate are retaught: Lies that are the foundation of a cover up lead to more lies and still more lies until finally the whole rickety edifice crumbles amid recrimination, finger pointing and back peddling, followed by the search for a scapegoat.

Lost Souls is a dark but honest portrait of a small Midwestern town trying to reclaim its lost glory and of men and women seeking their share of happiness, wealth and love. Yet what's true for the town is also true for the men and women who inhabit it -- the redemption they seek is just beyond reach, an elusive memory that cannot be reclaimed.

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