News & Politics

The Gypsy Man

Mystery with multiple narrators is “a long book that feels even longer.”

 This is a long book that feels even longer. A mystery narrated by a revolving cast, it’s the story of a rural Virginia mountain town haunted by rumors of a bogeyman who steals children away. In particular it focuses on the lives of Penny Bone, a poor young woman raising a six-year-old by herself, and her incarcerated husband, John.

 Regrettably for the reader, for the first half of the book—about 250 pages—almost nothing happens. Penny, John, a schoolteacher named Gault, an old man named Morgan, and many others relay their personal histories and their views on minor plot incidents. After a while it feels like a violation of the writing maxim “show, don’t tell.”

 There’s a whole lot of telling going on. Says Morgan: “I knew Penny’s husband pretty good before he got sent down to the state prison. I believe he didn’t mean what happened. I think he was innocent, but people around here all got opinions on it.” These opinions and others, freely stated by the townsfolk, bludgeon all subtlety from the characterizations.

 Bausch—who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College—actually has a compelling tale to tell, and the reader will realize that upon finally reaching the end. But it’s so buried under the artifice of multiple storytellers that few are likely to get that far.

Robert Bausch