For poetry-spouting bachelor lawyer James Buster Aloysius Holcombe Jr., even the finest Southern woman is no competition for his beloved Georgia hometown. After all, the narrator of Ferrol Sams' delightful novel Down Town appears to be enjoying himself far too much to hand over his sizeable heart to any one woman. With his latest novel, physician and storyteller Sams takes readers on a rollicking road trip with the irrepressible Buster behind the wheel, and nary a seatbelt in sight.
Crafted as a folksy journal tracing the paths of the good people of Fayette County, Georgia, from the Civil War right up to the prosperous present, Sams' novel serves up a history lesson with a slice of Southern hospitality. Never mind that even neighbors who have lived in Buster's hometown for more than three decades are still considered newcomers. Yankees and venerable townies alike are unable to escape Buster's wrath when they violate his gentleman's code of honor. The klan was supposed to be a secret organization, but everybody in town knew who they were, says Buster. There weren't very many of them, but not a one of them had clean fingernails. Despite Buster's penchant for quoting Edna St. Vincent Millay as a means of seduction, in advancing years he ambles on blissfully single. After all, who needs romance when the folks in your hometown are so utterly charming the wise doctor, the wealthy and eccentrically frugal banker and his blithering albeit loveable wife all keep Buster plenty busy with their conceits and confidences.
Like the best road trips, Down Town is not intent upon reaching any particular destination, but rather savoring the journey along the way. For readers drawn to stories of small-town life in the South, Sams' literary front porch beckons, and a glass of cold sweet tea awaits.
Karen Ann Cullotta, a journalism professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, is looking forward to her family's annual road trip through the South later this summer.