Recently I stumbled upon a first time novelist named Stephen Roth. His book is titled A Plot for Pridemore and it is one of those books that grabs you in the first few pages and just won't turn loose. I had intended just to sample it but before I knew it, I was hooked.
The plot is fascinating. A small Missouri town is slowly dying because of a new interstate which bypasses it. The mayor of the city is desperate to find some way to save his community. One night he watches a movie about a little girl who fell down a well shaft and was trapped for hours. The rescue operation attracted media from all over the world and put the location of the well shaft on the map. The Mayor figures he can come up with some kind of scheme to get media attention for Pridemore, Missouri, and before you can say "danger" he has it all figured out.
The mayor convinces his buddies to stage a renovation of a cave site, and when it is just about complete they will secretly set off some TNT and trap someone in the cave. Then they will do all they can to rescue this person and the media will follow their every move. It is a hare-brained idea but it is all they have to save their town.
Roth's characters start out as cartoons with no sense and no sensibilities. You see the mayor as a blustering idiot who is incapable of a plot that could work. His cronies act like the worst sort of characters from "Mayberry, RFD." Still as you read more and more of the plot it all begins to be something serious, and these laughable bunglers become deadly criminals ready to do whatever is necessary to get their city and their fortunes back.
Roth's writing style is evidence of real talent. This book portends great things for him in the future. But what this story is missing is a hero. From beginning to end there is no one to cheer for as each character has one or more flaws in his/her makeup. At different times in the story the reader is drawn to one character or another with the hope this person is going to do something heroic, but it never pans out. The book ends with no true hero emerging.
With just a few changes on the part of one or more of the characters this could have been a book of more impact. It is impressive due to its style and the unique writing abilities used to create the characters. Still it doesn't have heart or even hope for that matter, and rare are the books that can succeed without some message of this sort.
Stephen Roth is a talented man and he should have a bright future ahead of him, but next time I am holding out for a hero. I hope he provides me with one.
A Plot for Pridemore is published by Mercer University Press. It contains 304 pages and sells for $20.00.
Jackie K Cooper