Falls, North Carolina, is a mythical, mystical place. On the surface, it seems to be a charming town filled with the sort of “aw shucks” folks you would expect to populate a remote Southern area. But dive in deeper and you’ll find a complex web of lives and relationships.
Allan Gurganus returns to this setting, which he established in his 1989 bestseller The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, in Local Souls, a collection of three linked novellas. Though the characters’ paths may lead them away from Falls, they all circle back eventually.
In “Fear Not,” a teenage girl earns herself a long-lasting moniker when she bellows out a single line in the town Christmas pageant. The name sticks with her as she witnesses her father’s horrific death and as she sorts through the emotions (or, sometimes, lack thereof) that follow.
The second tale, “Saints Have Mothers,” again revolves around fascination with a teen girl. Caitlin is beloved by all in Falls. When she goes missing, the town falls apart—but her doting mother at last finds herself the center of attention. “Decoy” draws parallels between the lives and upbringing of two of Falls’ upstanding men—and there’s more than a competitive spirit at work.
These stories are often dark, but they’re rendered with a light hand. Gurganus ably brings out the joy and absurdity in all manner of life’s twists and turns.