This novel spans the 1960s to the ’90s in the small city of Somerset, South Carolina — a fictional version of Beaufort, the author’s hometown. In a witty, even snarky reporting style, Schein tells the story of the colorful residents as the segregated place progresses through the civil rights and Vietnam War era to the late twentieth century’s economic boom and gentrification.
Somerset’s racist white sheriff, Hoke Cooley, has a long-term, adulterous relationship with local Negro brothel owner Lila Trulove, which results in a mixed race half brother, Driver, for Lila’s daughter, Elizabeth. The girl is a brilliant but taunted “pioneering” black child attending the all-white junior high school.
Other Somerset denizens include Jack McGowan, a haunted, guilt-ridden USMC drill sergeant who caused three young lives to be lost and can’t remember doing it, since the murder was perpetrated by his alter ego; Bert Levy, Jack’s psychiatrist, a former New Yorker, who uses intense regression therapy to uncover and try to heal Jack’s deep-rooted issues, and Murray Gold, Bert’s friend, an attorney and fellow Jew. Levy and Gold can only play golf as country club guests in this Bible Belt town. Real-life best-selling author Pat Conroy makes an appearance as Elizabeth’s inspiring schoolteacher, who invites her to be a reporter for the school newspaper. According to the publisher, Mr. Conroy is an actual editor of this book.
Schein introduces each chapter with an old fashioned, “telling” title and sections the book by years. The reader follows each character through thirty-plus years of interconnected political, familial, and neighborly interactions. There is much love in this story despite the harsh circumstances. One can absorb the southern pace and rhythm of the author’s storytelling with its realistic-sounding dialogue.