The Old Place

Small towns have secrets, obviously, but sometimes’s it good to air them out.


The Old Place by Bobby Finger. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp.336. $27.


In many small-town communities, residents know very little about personal space. Billington, Texas (the setting of New York-based journalist and podcaster, Bobby Finger’s novel, The Old Place) is no different. Here, gossip keeps the metaphorical windmills powering daily life. But someone has been holding out on the people of Billington.

The novel spans the course of a week in August 2014, centering around the town church’s annual picnic. The town’s not-so-intimidating matriarch, Mary Alice Roth, is focused on who will favorably get to bring the picnic beans, and who she will punish by making 10-pounds of potato salad. Some people use threats, some people use peer pressure, but potato salad is the weapon of choice for Mary Alice—a feeble display of the puny power of a pitiable individual.

And the town allows this bluster and bullying. They know what’s behind it. Twenty-four years ago, Mary Alice’s husband drowned in a lake, and her son, Michael, mysteriously passed away shortly after his high school graduation in 2002. After their deaths, Mary Alice closed the door on these men’s lives, hoping no one in Billington would look too closely or dig too deeply. However, this year’s picnic is serving up more than beans and potato salad. Mary Alice’s past and present are about to collide, threatening her carefully crafted self-image. But is she ready to have the secrets she’s kept unlocked and unburied?

Finger masterfully handles the complexities between friends, family, and life in a small-town Billington. The Old Place—which is a family-inherited plot of land with a dark and rich past—is also a novel of rising tension that keeps readers interested in Mary Alice Roth’s journey. Finger’s novel is a web of threading secrets and relationships that slowly comes to light, untwisting themselves in a way that demonstrates the ultimate value of forgiveness and the power of unconditional love. Readers wander through The Old Place waiting for some storm to rumble and pour forth, but Finger delivers a finish that is as gentle as dancing in a light drizzle, the sun about to peek through.


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