Within the first two paragraphs of A Spring of Souls by William Cobb, the author makes it palpably clear that you are in the world of the South. Although set against the warm familiarity of orange earth and kudzu, Cobb's Piper, Alabama, could be any modern-day place, plagued by violence, political extremism, and the disconnect between parents and children. His creation is a timeless town filled with characters as peculiar as they are plentiful. The events of the book, too, seem jarring but familiar at the same time, and so the reader is hooked from the beginning, trusting that whoever and whatever appears, the ride through the pages will be worth the pleasure in itself.

A Spring of Souls revolves around the life of Brenda Boykin, a strong and believable focus for depicting redemption in these troubling American times. Our heroine returns to the small town she left behind soon after high school. Dizzying and funny, disturbing and comforting, her return signals something phenomenal. She and her fellow characters children, lost loves, peers, local law enforcement make simple decisions and cosmic mistakes, all of which provide a momentum that is compelling to see through to the end. It reads a bit like a thinking person's tabloid full of passion and violence, opposing opinions on social and political issues, clashing classes and broken dreams but deconstructed to the point of credibility all the way.

Cobb uses more graphic depictions in some of the story's events to elicit an emotional response as well as tell the tale. His gift for storytelling becomes more evident with each new character introduced into the scenes of Wembly County, where the ever-widening sphere of the mystical realm meets stark reality. Like a Mount Olympus or Valhalla, the geographical area of the book is home to people of lasting and powerful strengths and frailties, their actions seeming to be the sum of human evolution as well as those of individuals stumbling along the path of human experience. What you take away from this story may indicate how sure-footed you are. ¦ Fran Hatton is a freelance writer and editor working in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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