From Publishers Weekly
Headley's offbeat, bighearted first novel paints a delightful portrait of smalltown life, as experienced by 24-year-old Eric Mercer, a sardonically charming underachiever. Eric lives and works in tiny Pinely, W.Va., where drama means betting on the annual (and futile) efforts of the high school football team to beat archrival Cedarsville. The bright spot in Mercer's life is his precocious five-year-old daughter, Tess, a happy accident from a tryst with the beautiful Gina Stevens, whom Mercer and his pals pined for throughout adolescence. Headley intercuts Mercer's present-day activities—drinking and fighting in bars, male-bonding with dim-bulb best friend Deke, handymanning at the funeral home—with his teenage antics of drinking in the woods, male-bonding with Deke and loving his girl, Jill Dupree. Bringing past and present together is the death of Jill's father, which forces Mercer to finally face his beloved Jill, back in town after six years, and come to terms with Gina, whose one night of companionship he paid for in the loss of both his college dreams and Jill's love. Headley makes up for the slight plot with his winning protagonist, whose gift for avoidance is as profound as his flair for understated humor. "Slacker grows up" is a familiar trope, but Headley's winning wit and his compassionate, delightful prose mark him as a bright new talent.
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A one-night stand foils a high-school football star's future in this astute debut about life in a small town. New father Eric Mercer has abandoned plans to attend Brown, remaining in tiny Pinely, West Virginia, to care for his infant daughter, Tess (he shares custody with her gorgeous mother, Gina). He works an unusual pair of part-time jobs-- funeral home assistant and bartender at the local pub--and predicts the outcome of Pinely's annual homecoming game with Kreskinesque aplomb. When his former high-school sweetheart, Jill, returns from law school for her father's funeral, Eric is haunted by thoughts of what might have been. West Virginia-born Headley conjures up a memorable cast of characters: mild-mannered mortician Wilson Tremble, who has the dubious assignment of embalming those he has known; Eric's best friend, Deke, who's knee-deep in duty at the local sewage plant; and wild-eyed Coach Gleason, desperate to redeem a losing football season with one big win. Despite its occasionally clunky prose, this is a sweet, candid tale about finding contentment when life doesn't go as planned. Allison BlockCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved