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And what stories they are...
on September 21, 2013
The "Local Souls" in Allan Gurganus's eponymous book title are the residents of a North Carolina town, population about 6,000. The town of "Falls, North Carolina" - featured in the one short story and two longer ones - is a relatively upscale village, particularly in the River Front section, where most of the stories take place. The residents - the "local souls" - weave in and out of the stories, but each story tends to feature it's own main characters and plot. Gurganus has a drawn map of the River Front area of Falls in both the front and back of the book, which features the main places he refers to in his stories.
And what stories they are. From the first story about a sleek family of four who have moved to the town and set the locals to talking to the middle one about a hurting family who has lost a daughter in Africa to the final one about the town's doctor and his influence on his friends and patients both during his 40 year practice and subsequent retirement, Gurganus just blows away the reader with his powerful writing. A bit like "Our Town", the residents of Falls, NC give up their secrets and their dreams in a wealth of terse writing that brings both the characters and the place to life. I guess if I have to have a "favorite" story, I'd reluctantly point to the final story - the longest - about the doctor and the town he served faithfully.
The story has two main characters - the narrator, Bill Mabry - and his doctor, "Doc" Roper. Roper, the blessed son of a socially prominent-but-poor town family, has returned to Falls in the 1950's after graduating from Yale Medical School He sets up a practice - becoming legendary in his treatment of townsfolk, both rich and poor. He diagnoses young Billy Mabry's heart condition, inherited from his father and grandfather. "Doc" and Bill become life long friends and partners-in-treatment, seeing each other every Monday morning. Bill feels he owes his life to "Doc", but the friendship becomes more and more unequal as the years pass and both age. "Doc", after his retirement at age 70, becomes a world renowned carver of duck decoys and makes a "Second Start" in his life. But life's travails catch up with the town's residents; particularly to "Doc" Roper and Bill Mabry.
Each of the three stories is a gem in itself. I suppose the longer third story could be a novel alone, but all three together paint a picture of a town and its citizens caught up in the events that come with the passage of time. This is a book that should not be missed. Allan Gurganus is also the author of "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" and several other novels and short stories.