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  • Written by Steve Yarbrough
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  • Written by Steve Yarbrough
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On Sale: July 10, 2007
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-307-38660-1
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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From critically acclaimed author Steve Yarbrough comes this riveting, beautifully nuanced, new novel of life in a small town.

After twenty-five years away and an illicit scandal in California, Dr. Pete Barrington is returning home to Loring, Mississippi, where football rules and religious piety mingles uncomfortably with darker human impulses. Though Barrington sets up a small practice and finds solace in an old friend, his wife, Angela, and daughter, Toni, are having trouble adjusting. Also, Barrington’s homecoming has awakened difficult memories for Alan DePoyster, a former high school classmate and now a pillar of the community, who blames Barrington for tearing apart his family. When DePoyster’s son and Barrington’s daughter begin a fledgling relationship, the children are forced to pay for their parents’ sins, and things take a disastrous, even shocking turn.



Under the circumstances, he told himself, speeding made sense. He’d driven down through the San Joaquin Valley at eighty and eighty-five, crossed the Mojave with the Volvo’s air conditioner blasting and the needle on the dash nudging ninety. Through Kingman, Flagstaff and Winslow, Gallup and Albuquerque, Amarillo, the vast nothingness of western Oklahoma, clean across Arkansas and over the Greenville bridge, and he’d seen more state police officers, deputy sheriffs and plain old small-town cops than he could have calculated, even if calculation came naturally to him, which recent events had proven it did not. None of them stopped him. It was as if they understood that while anybody who lived in California had good reason for wanting to distance himself from its borders, his reasons were better than most.

They hadn’t been in Mississippi for more than three or four minutes before a gray patrol car pulled out of the lot at a bait shop and attached itself to their rear bumper. He glanced at Angela: stoic and silent, the picture of stillness, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Had she taken them off a single time since they left Fresno? If so, he didn’t recall it. He’d noticed her wearing them in the motel room last night.

In the backseat, Toni said, “I think you’d better pull over.”

“I think you’re right, hon,” he said, and stopped on the shoulder next to a cotton field where a young black guy was spraying herbi- cide from a Hi-Boy. Leaving the engine running and the air on, he climbed out and shut the door. Wet heat enveloped him in its familiar embrace.

The state trooper, a woman, was somewhere between thirty-five and forty. Trim and tan, with sandy brown hair and delicate hands that looked too small to wield the weapon riding her right hip. She tipped her own sunglasses up, and he saw a smooth lump below her left eye, the skin perceptibly discolored.

Her voice was husky but not abrupt or unpleasant. “You’re a long way from home.”

“Yes ma’am. I guess you could say that.”

“Could I see your license?”

He pulled his wallet out, withdrew the license and handed it to her.

“Fresno. That’s cotton country too, isn’t it?”

“Yes ma’am.”

She glanced inside the station wagon, nodded at Angela and Toni, then looked through the back glass into the cargo compartment, which in addition to luggage contained two computers, a couple printers, a bunch of medical books and the records from his former practice. “Moving?” she said.

“Actually, we are.”

“Mind if I ask where?”



“Yes ma’am. The fact is, I grew up there.”

She examined the license again. “Barrington,” she said. “There are some folks by that name in Greenville.”

“They’re not kin to me, but I played football against one of them in high school.”

“That’d probably be Carl, I’m guessing.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“He’s tending bar now at the Holiday Inn. I used to stop in there from time to time with my husband. Carl likes to pour big ones.”

“He was a pretty big guy, if I recall right. Not a bad ballplayer, either.”

Something had disturbed her. Frowning, she looked through the window again—first at Angela, then at Toni, then at the stuff piled up in the back. She fingered the license once more. “Mr. Barrington,” she said, “you were driving way too fast.”

“Yes ma’am, I know that.”

“Tell me this was an isolated incident.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do that. The truth is, I probably slowed down some when I crossed the bridge. Just out of relief at finally getting where I was going. I’ve been driving like a bat out of hell for three days.”

Her nose wrinkled as if she’d just inhaled an unwholesome odor. “Is something wrong?” she asked. “Why would anybody in this situation say anything like that?”

He’d ask himself the same question later. The best answer he could come up with was that a bunch of factors had converged to render him incapable of deceit. It also had something to do with her open, pleasant manner, the feel of that damp air on his skin, the sight of the black guy on the Hi-Boy, engaged with a fate that could have been his own. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve said and done a lot I can’t explain.”

Moving decisively, she led him some distance away—he was following her before he knew it. Halfway between the Volvo and the cruiser, she turned to face him, lifted the sunglasses off altogether and stuck them in her pocket. “You’re driving a nice car,” she said. “You’ve got what looks like your family in there. Is that who they are?”

He nodded.

“How old’s the girl?”


“You mind if I ask what your profession is?”

“I’m a doctor.”

“What kind?”

The words were easy to pronounce but hard to say. “Family practice.”

She’d begun to sweat. Rivulets ran down the bridge of her nose and trickled over the unsightly lump beneath her eye. Her blouse was damp too. “Dr. Barrington,” she said, “I’m going to ask you something. Do I need to run this license? Or should I just wish you all a pleasant journey?”

“Running that license won’t tell you anything I haven’t. My last ticket was about sixteen years ago, the car’s registered in my name and there’s no warrant out for my arrest.”

She looked at the license one last time and then at him, as if to confirm that his face and the one on the card belonged to the same man. If only it were as simple as that.

“I’ll just give you a warning,” she said, holding out his license.

Before accepting it he touched her wrist. “That spot beneath your eye?” he said. “You need to have it looked at.”


She gazes at the rearview mirror and sees the officer standing there. A nice-looking woman, just an inch short of pretty, probably friendly and smart too, and certain of her authority. Her heart misfires—not once but twice—robbing her of breath. She reaches for her purse, her hand closing around the plastic bottle of Toprol, in case she needs it.

As if the patrolwoman understands she’s being observed, she reapplies her sunglasses, strides back to the cruiser and slides inside, slams the door, glances over her shoulder and wheels onto the highway, a plume of dust rising as she swings into a U-turn and heads back toward the bait shop.

After sticking his wallet into his pocket, Pete opens the door and climbs in beside her. The car shifts ever so slightly. On the trip he’s added weight, the result of fast food and sodas, and she can see faint evidence of a belly. Soon enough that will be gone, once he finds a gym and starts working out.

“Well,” he says, “times sure have changed. Used to be that anybody driving through here with out-of-state plates was already guilty. She didn’t even write me a ticket.”

“Did you really think she would?”

He takes every question seriously now, never sidestepping them or providing a facile answer. Tapping his finger against the steering wheel, he thinks for a moment and says, “I never assumed she wouldn’t.”

From the Hardcover edition.
Steve Yarbrough

About Steve Yarbrough

Steve Yarbrough - The End of California

Photo © Miriam Berkley

Born in Indianola, Mississippi, Steve Yarbrough is the author of five previous novels and three collections of stories. A PEN/Faulkner finalist, he has received the Mississippi Authors Award, the California Book Award, the Richard Wright Award, and another prize from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. He teaches at Emerson College and lives with his wife in Stoneham, Massachusetts.


"Impressive.... Graceful, precise and packed with surprises.” —The Washington Post"Compelling.... Yarbrough has a keen ear and a sharp eye for changes in the cultural landscape.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review"The End of California unreels fast, with high drama. Its juicy characters.... hook immediately and don't let go.” —The Oregonian "The End of California unreels fast, with high drama. Its juicy characters, limned in a succulent mystery plot, hook immediately and don't let go. Yarbrough succinctly depicts life in contemporary small-town America . . . a life peppered with cell phones and text-messaging that simultaneously features characters who've never left the county, much less the state in a post-Jim Crow era . . . A worthy companion to Larry McMurtry's 1966 classic." —Annie Dawid, The Oregonian"Compelling . . . Yarbrough has a keen ear for the nuances of Southern speech and a fine command of details, [as well as] a sharp eye for changes in the cultural landscape, [where] King Cotton has been displaced by catfish farming [and] googling has joined gossiping as a way to root out secrets." —Roy Hoffman, Los Angeles Times Book Review"[The End of California] cements Yarbrough's reputation as one of the brightest contemporary Southern writers wince Pat Conroy . . . An evocative portrait of a place and poeple [who are] every bit as complex as Faulkner's Snopses and Compsons, rendered in a clear, contemporary narrative." —Ron Francell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution"Surprising, even magical . . . Yarbrough weaves the inner-workings of a small Southern town into a symphony of voices and scenes." —Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review"I love his past work, but The End of California definitely blows them all away [with] a tale of real people whose actions catch the reader in whirlwinds of passion, deceit, rage and death . . . It may be The End of California, but it's the continuation of great prose from Yarbrough." —JC Patterson, Jackson Clarion-Ledger"Impressive . . . Yarbrough knows his characters so well, cares for them so deeply and writes of them in prose that is graceful, precise and packed with surprises . . . [The End of California] limits itself to life as we know it—which of course is no limitation at all.” —Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post"Yarbrough's story blends elements we have seen in other novels--the small-town South, the football hero grown up, passions that reach back to high school, a little incest and a lot of extramarital sex, racial tensions, hypocrisy amount the pious--but it all works because Yarbrough knows his characters so well, cares for them so deeply and writes of them in prose that is graceful, precise and packed with surprises." —Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post"The End of California is artfully crafted, sensitive and observant, with characters who stick with you. But what makes it really shine is the undercurrent of thoughtfulness about who we are and what we're becoming, [as] Loring becomes a kind of microcosm for the cultural divisions and moral ambiguities of contemporary America." —Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News"Yarbrough's captivating novel of a prodigal son's return is written with wit, charm, and an obvious affection for the many characters that populate Loring, a place that has the same positives and negatives of any small town: people know you, and people know you . . . Pleasing and unexpectedly shocking, this work is simply very good . . . Read this book." —Jyna Scheeren, Library Journal"Yarbrough fulfills the novelist's chief task, by giving weight and import to human actions, [and] the momentum that builds, the increasing power the characters have to do each other good or ill, holds the reader spellbound." —Kirkus"Yarbrough returns to Loring, Miss., to examine the intersecting lives of two contemporary family men in this sensitive but powerful smalltown portrait of sex, religion and other human passions . . . [He] gives each character in this slow-burning drama the complex emotional scars of broken marriage and, more importantly, the space and voice with which to explore them." —Publishers Weekly"A tale of tested loyalties: between friends, spouses, children, and even the community as a whole [in which] small town ambience, with its conventions and crowdedness, its secrets and suspicions, is evoked with careful detail." —Brad Hooper, Booklist"Anybody who thinks the Mississippi Delta has given up all its secrets needs to read Steve Yarbrough, especially this new one. It's scary and wonderful, true to the bone and his best yet." —Beverly Lowry"For a writer, a small town is a narrow well, but an exceedingly deep one. Nobody understands this better than Steve Yarbrough does. Many of us have been wondering what became of Loring, Mississippi —Yarbrough's Yoknapatawpha. The End of California is a profoundly satisfying answer to that question. —Jennifer Haigh

  • The End of California by Steve Yarbrough
  • July 10, 2007
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $13.95
  • 9781400095704

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