For as long as most adults could remember, Cedar Hole had been a haven for the unmotivated, the hopeless and the downright destitute. For generations of families, mediocrity was an aspiration and, all too often, just getting by was good enough. That is, until Cedar Hole meets Robert J. Cutler, the bright and eager only child of reclusive parents who, unlike anyone else in the town, is proud to have been born and raised in Cedar Hole. Over the years, Robert establishes himself as a model citizen and the symbol of hope for a town previously resigned to failure. Yet when Robert dies a premature death, Francis Spud Pinkham, the youngest of the rabble-rousing Pinkham brood and the prototypical Cedar Hole resident, must work to overcome his longstanding rivalry with Robert and reinvent himself as a leader of his fractured community.
In her striking debut novel, Stephanie Doyon, who has ghostwritten several novels for young adults, creates characters so rich that readers will automatically (and perhaps, eerily) feel at home in Cedar Hole. Along with Robert and Spud, we meet townies such as Kitty Higgins, the obsessive and incorrigible librarian; Bernie Cutler, Robert's widow with a serious vendetta against her late husband's mentor; the entire Pinkham clan, including Spud's exhausted parents and nine hard-drinking, trouble-seeking sisters; and Harvey Comstock, the local cop more interested in midday trysts with the disreputable schoolteacher Miss Pratt than patrolling the town. Much of the book's movement centers not on the action of the story, but on the day-to-day lives of the residents of Cedar Hole. This unique approach provides readers with the opportunity to actively participate as Doyon steadily and artfully guides us through her decrepit, yet somehow charming landscape. Readers should expect to be both repulsed and infatuated with Doyon's motley cast of characters and consumed with a story that, on first glance, could appear mundane. The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole, for all of its merits, should not be selected as a quick read. Instead, it should be savored as an intimate glimpse into the lives of some utterly unique, highly memorable characters. What resonates is that life is best understood and perhaps best enjoyed through the careful observation and consideration of the people around us. Abby Plesser writes from New York City.