Eleanor & Abel By Annette Sanford (Counterpoint: New York) $22/hardcover
South Texas author Annette Sanford received critical acclaim for her first literary outing -- Crossing Shattuck Bridge, a collection of short stories centered on small-town life. Included in that book were a woman regretting her choice to never marry and a fascinating handyman who catches her eye. Now those two characters are fully fleshed out in Eleanor & Abel, notable for being a romance between septuagenarians, and for its rigorous simplicity. Ms. Sanford writes like a dream, and her dedicated spinster Eleanor is a woman who knows herself but fears change. Abel appears like an older, wiser Willie Nelson in a shiny RV, a bit wild, multi-talented and insistent that Eleanor hire him to fix up the cottage she inherited from her parents when they died. What follows is their initially frightening sexual attraction, a liaison with a granddaughter, and plenty of gossip as word gets around that these two are a hot item. A satisfying, literate look at a little-told subject by a master of character and place.
-- Kathryn Eastburn
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Sabbath Creek By Judson Mitcham (University of Georgia Press: Athens, Ga.) $22.95/hardcover
A boy and his mother -- running away from home, husband and father -- arrive at the Sabbath Creek Motor Court when their car breaks down in the loneliest part of the ravaged southern Georgia countryside. There they meet Stroud, the proprietor, an opinionated 96-year-old black man with a past as mysterious and exciting as any 12-year-old white boy can imagine. While the mother tries to make decisions about their future, her son befriends Stroud and enters into a relationship that teaches him the perils and responsibilities of devotion.
Judson Mitcham's coming-of-age tale is sturdy and earthy, infused with melancholy. It comes alive when Stroud is on the page -- a full-blown, vigorous fictional creation. What finally happens in Sabbath Creek matters less than the time spent at Stroud's bizarre roadside inn. Wayfarers there will never be the same.