Out of Season Summary
by Robert Bausch

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Out of Season

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

During the off season in Columbia Beach, a once thriving northern Virginia resort that has gone to seed since the state banned slot machines, “a sort of general paralysis” sets in. Then, in the first chapter of Out of Season, something out of the ordinary happens. A stranger checks into the only hotel wanting to know not the daily but the weekly rates. He is David Caldwell, a troubled man. Not only has he accepted temporarily the job of sheriff in a hamlet where budget cuts eliminated that position as well as the town's jail, but he has arranged to meet Todd, his twenty-year-old son, who was in juvenile prison for seven years, convicted in the accidental death of his baby brother. The two have not seen each other for nearly a decade.

In chapter two readers meet the menacing Cecil Edwards, a hulking, seeming bully, owner-operator of a Ferris wheel that dominates the midway at one end of town. Later, Cecil will bill himself as a “doer of odd jobs I’m not even trained for,” an asthmatic who drinks and smokes too much, and a man “everyone in this town is afraid of.”

Two days before the new sheriff's arrival, Cecil lives up to the last item in his resume. He descends on Vince McDole, gas station owner-mechanic, plays a variation on Russian roulette at McDole's expense, announcing that “I’m waiting for somebody to deny I owe you money.” McDole, unable to find the cause of Cecil's truck's malfunction, has billed him $163 for labor. This scene, dear to anyone who has ever been bilked for car repairs, ends in McDole's shaking capitulation—the only believable drama in the novel.

These first two chapters held out such anticipation and the last nineteen so little fulfillment that there is little point in summarizing the many pages of humdrum dialog, unlikely (without DNA) parenting, and fictionally unearned declarations of devotion.