It's a long, long while from October to June, especially in a Virginia summer resort town. But during this particular off-season, the townsfolk of Columbia Beach find the emptiness and melancholy of winter unexpectedly disrupted by a series of momentous events. The main characters of Robert Bausch's new novel may seem like familiar ones from the Andy Griffith Show : county sheriff, hotel keeper, gas station attendant and Ferris wheel operator vie with one another sometimes comically for whatever small portion of dignity each man can claim. In Bausch's hands, however, these actors confront each other on a stage that feels far closer to Sophocles than to Mayberry. As so often happens in Bausch's fiction, vast and fateful consequences flow from a simple but irrevocable accident. In Out of Season (in an intriguing variant of Bausch's previous novel, The Gypsy Man), a boy returns from prison, now transformed into a man. Todd Caldwell is the sheriff's son. Here at Columbia Beach, father and son will have their first reunion after many dark years, charged by a mutual reckoning they could never have anticipated after so much lost time and bad feeling. Todd's native goodness has been undone by the terrible circumstance that landed him in prison, but now, through the catalyst of love, it is preparing to be reborn.

Cecil Edwards the menacing giant of a man who operates the town Ferris wheel should, by all rights, be the villain of the novel, considering the way he bullies his neighbors around and willfully takes the law into his own hands. But when his half-sister Lindsey arrives in town to claim him as her brother, one more thread of fictional clichŽ is cut by the scissors of Bausch's imagination. The affection that grows up between Lindsey and Cecil is as fragile as a wounded animal, and just as hopeful for life and succor. With his inimitable touch of magnificent and tragic simplicity, Bausch shows that the risks of love extend in every possible direction, unceasing and never out of season. Michael Alec Rose is a professor of music at Vanderbilt University.

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