The Incredible Winston Browne
© Sean Dietrich 2021
In a little place called Moab, a man is dying. His name is Winston Browne, and he’s a man who lives with regrets, memories of a love gone awry, of an envisioned life not fulfilled. Yet he’s found a place for himself in Moab, not just as the sheriff but as a pillar of the community: he’s Moab’s baseball coach, its official deliverer-of-groceries to shut-ins, its very rock who mentors little boys and listens to the grievances of old women. Soon he will be gone, but his work is not yet done. A little girl has just stumbled into town, a little girl who grown men want to kill, a little girl for whom one woman has already sacrificed her liberty and possibly her life. The Incredible Winston Browne is a moving story of life refound – and of the incredible season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, who the entire town is obsessed with.
The Incredible Winston Browne begins as several apparently unrelated character stories that converge into one before the book’s first third is reached. Several of those stories are intertwined by nature of this being set in a small town of the 1950s, where no one is an island and everyone’s life is tangled up with everyone else’s – with all the comfort and occasional irritation that entails. Jessie, though, is an outlier. The reader meets her as a little girl being smuggled out of a strange religious sect, chased by men of violence who have a singular obsession with finding her and punishing her for some crime unknown – and when she arrives in Moab, alone and terrified, she becomes part of its story when the Sheriff and another adult living with regrets – Eleanor, master of the church social scene – take responsibility for her. There are more stories interwoven with theirs, like that of a young boy who loses his grandfather and who is struggling to make his place in the world. Winston Browne takes several very different kinds of stories – a man burdened with the knowledge of his death, a woman struggling with the death of her own romance, the drama of the girl hiding from homicidal cultists, and of course the baseball action – and mixes them to excellent effect. There’s enormous charm in the setting, of course — a Mayberry-on-the-Panhandle, where the postmaster also runs the general store, where the local newspaper is more concerned with local gossip than international affair, and little boys and girls grow to adulthood working alongside adults who care about them — but the deft mix of stories. and the general theme of how we can grow through the challenges and tragedies of life, makes this first fiction read of 2023 a high mark to beat.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher. On the intense meaning to be found in strong ties to a local community, even as one prepares to ‘inherit their Eternal Reward’, as Moab’s paper so frequently put it.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg. Small-town southern drama. 1920s/30s
Cold Sassy Tree, Olivia Ann Burns. Ditto.
Wendell Berry’s Port Williams books. Ditto, but ranging from late 19th century to 1970s.