The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough

realmA Southern author writes about the complexities of relationships in a place that is decidedly not Southern.

Cal and Kristin are fifty-something transplants from California to a small town outside Boston.  Kristin, long a veteran of university administration, loses her job during the rounds of recession cutbacks, and she takes a position for much less pay and prestige at a small state college in Massachusetts.  Cal, a gifted carpenter and taciturn one, stays at home fixing up their decrepit house and playing his beloved traditional music.  Their relationship is a workable one, but there’s a lot that’s not being said.

Kristin meets their neighbor Matt by chance.  He’s about ten years younger and works in a deli owned by a friend.  Matt is divorced, with two daughters, and avoids a certain business in town for a reason.  He’s bookish, and recommends a book to Kristin.  As they get to know each other better, it becomes clear that Kristin likes Matt far more than the recommended book.

Amid the happenings of their affair, there’s trouble at the college, and Kristin gets into it way deeper than she would have imagined.  She also, as we find out near the end, gets a lesson in first impressions.

Cal becomes more withdrawn from Kristin, but yet makes friends with the next door neighbor and even gives mandolin lessons to a retired policeman.  He also saves the day at a local convenience store by beating up a would-be robber.  This wins him some short-lived fame in the neighborhood, but the incident disturbs Cal far more than he would prefer to let on.  Besides that, Kristin has been coming home much later than usual, and Cal suspects something beyond college politics.

The author writes a quiet tale of a troubled marriage and makes it compulsively readable.  The Realm of Last Chances was my first introduction to Steve Yarbrough, and I’m glad I have finally read something by him.  There’s nothing fancy here – just a well-written book, with enough back story carefully added to keep the pages turning.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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