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GroVont Saga Continues With "Lydia"

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April 25, 2011
Tim Sandlin has been writing novels since 1987. His stories are populated with peculiar characters who find themselves in zany situations. But Sandlin's writing is not purely comic; an undercurrent of sadness runs through his novels. Reviewers have compared Sandlin to Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Hiaasen and John Irving.

Over 15 years ago Sandlin wrote a trilogy set in the fictional town of GroVont, Wyo. The novels trace the relationship of Sam Callahan and his girlfriend Maurey Pierce from 1963 to 1984. Sandlin's latest book, "Lydia," is a continuation of the GroVont saga. "Lydia" combines suspense, romance, historical fiction, comedy and a road trip. It is a charming romp with a host of lovable oddballs and a highly complicated plot.

The story begins as Sam's mother, Lydia, is released from a federal prison. She has been incarcerated for sending President Reagan's dog a poisoned chew toy. She avoided prosecution for several years with the help of her husband, Hank Elkrunner, who is still in prison. Lydia plans to make a triumphant return to Wyoming with the help of her granddaughter Shannon.

At 28, Shannon is drifting without joy or purpose. She ends the most recent in a string of meaningless relationships and returns to GroVont. Shannon's father, Sam, runs a home there for pregnant teenagers, and her mother Maurey runs a horse ranch nearby. Another key player in the drama is Roger, a young man whom Maurey adopted when he was a boy. He works with Sam as a general handyman.

For her mandated community service Lydia is assigned the task of gathering an oral history from Oly Pedersen, a 99-year-old man living in GroVont. The plan is to have his life history recorded in time for his 100th birthday.

Throughout the novel sections set in a different font indicate that Oly is speaking into Lydia's tape recorder. Oly's story may be the best part of the novel. First, his life is eventful. He survives the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and a hotel explosion in Billings, Mont. He fights in World War I, works as an artist in Paris, serves as a park ranger in Yellowstone, and experiences two great heartbreaks.

Another appealing aspect to Oly's story is his tone. Perhaps because he is looking back on his life from some distance, his recollections contain much insight. As he recalls a period of great happiness, he says "the most boring part corresponds to the happiest part, because that's the way stories work. Good times are interesting to live, but worthless to tell about."

Much of the suspense in "Lydia" centers on the despicable, one-dimensional character of Leroy. Leroy is pure evil, and is searching for the boy he kidnapped many years ago in order to enact some twisted revenge. As Leroy's search brings him closer to Roger and the Callahans, the tension mounts.

"Lydia" is an interesting tour through many of the problems of human life. Although readers may not relate to the specific problems of these characters, Lydia, Sam, Shannon and Oly all face challenges known to many.

After her time in prison, Lydia struggles with her loss of power. "Strangers dismissed her as irrelevant. Hatred, she could fight; being dismissed was intolerable." Shannon's fear of failure keeps her from living fully. "Sometimes she thought potential meant having the opportunity to fail at an unlimited number of dreams."

Sandlin's empathy and humor are evident on every page of "Lydia." With a brisk pace and an intricate plot, Sandlin tells a story that manages to be both bizarre and familiar at the same time.

Tim Sandlin will discuss and sign "Lydia" at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12 at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave. Call 367-6731 for more information.

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