The Best People In The World, by Justin Tussing

Love and miracles amid the shaggy glamour of counter-culture
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The Independent Culture

Thomas is 17, awkward and innocent, while Alice is 25, thin-lipped and lonely, yet possessed of an educator's grip on right and wrong. Along for the ride is hippie grifter Shiloh, dedicated to speaking in riddles. The trio head to Vermont and an abortive encounter with a Christian commune, before finding a rural house to squat.

The first blight in the pastoral idyll comes when Shiloh's no-good friend Parker visits and precipitates strange goings-on in the basement. Winter is a more direct hazard: Shiloh's talents for trapping wild animals and emergency plumbing come into their own, but banding together to fight the elements provides limited respite from creeping estrangement.

Each side of the triangle is strained. Alice disapproves of Shiloh's dubious machinations with Parker, Shiloh resents Alice's hold over Thomas, and Thomas and Alice's physical intimacy outstrips their emotional congruence.

Part of the novel concerns two investigators who expose fraudulent miracles. Eventually, these elements mesh with the rest of the narrative, because miracles turn out to be Tussing's elliptical theme.

His style is delicately textured. Elegaic natural description is part of a versatile range of registers that extends to laconic comedy. Thomas compares Shiloh's shack to "a losing turn in a game of pick-up sticks". Later, sadly, the comedy fades away and Tussing's sensitivity sometimes becomes attenuated. An associated difficulty is reconciling such writerly qualities with what we know of Thomas's limited education.

These cavils are more than compensated for by an elegantly drifting account of the high point in a life which, from an older narrative perspective, has subsequently majored in rootless disappointment.

Thomas's consolation is his recollection of a time when he launched himself into a world in which everything was new, and utopian social change seemed a practical possibility. His miracle was Alice, and his relationship with her an extended epiphany shot through with the shaggy glamour of the dying counter-culture.

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