Alison lives in a small West Virginia town with her sister and brother-in-law. As Alison's Automotive Repair Manual
opens, her main occupation is mourning her husband, who died in an accident two years ago. Her sister, her friends, and her former boss at the community college have all grown weary of her grief, and beg her to move on. But Alison is paralyzed, maybe partially because she wasn't all that crazy about her husband in the first place. One day she discovers a disintegrating 1976 Corvette in her sister's garage and finally thinks of something she'd like to do: repair the Vette. Alison knows nothing about cars, but pegs away at her project anyhow, knowing all the while that "the whole thing was folly." Meanwhile, we follow her healing, her new love for a munitions expert named Max, her sister's quest to get pregnant, and the (literal) exposure of the town's secret history. While Alison is an appealingly complex character, forever stumbling into gaffes, the book is a little too neat, with its themes, goals, and love interests laid out tidily in the first 40 pages. But fans of quirky Southerners such as Jill McCorkle will find a sympathetic new voice here. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Automotive repair doubles as grief therapy in Barkley's quirky, emotionally resonant third novel (after Money, Love) set in a small town in West Virginia, where a newly widowed young woman tries to delay putting her life back together. Alison Durst is the witty, 30-ish protagonist who's become a semipermanent guest of her sister Sarah and brother-in-law Bill ever since her husband died in an accident. She's already spent two years in mourning, and in spite of Sarah and Bill's pleas that she get on with it, Alison makes yet another bid to prolong her suspended state: she's going to rebuild her brother-in-law's broken-down Corvette, and then she'll leave. Of course, she knows nothing about cars. Sparks really start to fly, however, when Max Kesler, the owner of a one-man munitions company, comes to help her with the project. Their initial dates are as explosive as they are funny, with Alison accompanying Max while he blows up a silo and then scopes out the hotel that may be his next target. Barkley spends a bit too much time on Max's father, a compulsive liar whose habit is beginning to interfere with Max's relationship with Alison. This subplot slows the romantic momentum, but the combination of Barkley's understated comic style and well-calibrated dialogue is more than enough to overcome the misstep. The icing on the cake is the author's touching portrayal of smalltown life in West Virginia.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.