A place of middle-class tales

The Dalles, Oregon, is nothing special, unless, of course, you lived there. It's a tough little resilient town tucked next to a big curve in the Columbia River and nestled under the beauty of Mount Hood, the highest peak in Oregon. It's a town of cherry orchardists, wheat ranchers, shopkeepers, and normal folks carving out their lives. It's American Gothic in real life. It's the kind of town in which Sean McNabb would feel comfortable. He comes close to the town when he writes a section about Darrington Circe's meeting with Ommi Martin, an intriguing young woman who grew up just east of The Dalles in the even smaller town of Arlington. Sean's life isn't unfamiliar to some who grew up in The Dalles. He writes a novel about Circe in which his protagonist faces Sean's greatest fears. Sean feels the sting of job loss and divorce. It appears McNabb is headed for literary success, but that dream collapses. In the resulting chaos, McNabb and Circe must face two questions basic to today's America: What is fact and what is fiction, and what is so valuable that it is worth our time and commitment? (Notes: That's The Dalles in the photo below, and that's me during my time as sports editor at The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, in the early 1980s.)



Enter the world of Circe

Author and protagonist is a dynamic combination even in the one-sided relationship of fiction, but every author knows this creation must feel real. I do that with Sean McNabb, and he understands that about Darrington Circe. The author also must provide an engaging supporting cast. I give McNabb two strong women, Nadine Walker, a Minnesota transplant living in Mississippi who becomes a lifeline when Sean's times are toughest, and Melissa Clark McNabb, his compassionate and often confrontational ex-wife. McNabb gives Circe a woman, Cecilia Carson, who also sees a sign of impending death on people. Then there are all those fascinating soon-to-be-dead in Circe's world, such as the alluring Ommi Martin; the Bacinskis, a seemingly comfortable married couple from the Denver suburbs; and Kat, a diminutive street waif with a back story that would frighten anyone. There's also Edwin Sanderson, a fire-and-brimstone traveling preacher whose words might hold the key to all these worlds ... including McNabb's real life. Where is that boundary between real life and fiction?


Sean McNabb and Darrington Circe

Sean's life is a train wreck. His marriage is kaput, his job does nothing but pay the bills, and he has deep mental scars from his youth. He anesthetizes his pain in two ways. He prowls taverns and jazz bars for female flesh to pleasure him, and he creates Circe, his psychological piñata.

Nadine Walker and Melissa Clark McNabb

McNabb believes he can carry life's burdens without flinching. What a fool. His ties to sanity are under attack. Nadine is there when his times are darkest, and Melissa provides a necessary emotional slap in the face. Circe finds something intriguing in many of the soon-to-die, but they all walk away to their deaths. Why is he so cursed? Is there a way to escape?