It is almost impossible to believe that MAIN STREET STORIES is the debut novel of Phyllis LaPlante, a Jungian analyst by day who seems to have spent countless hours dreaming up and pasting together the myriad wild characters with which she populates her little West Texas town of Massey circa 1950s. There are some strange folks in this seemingly quiet place and the manner in which LaPlante pops the tops off their secrets and lives is not only splendid writing but as entertaining as any fresh novel out this year.
LaPlante not only writes well, she thinks well and communicates her ideas with conviction and not a little candor. On one of her internet sites she writes the following:
'One of my characters, Wayne Pickens, is an irritant. He is blind to his faults, inflated, nosy, self-righteous, preachy, a creep, a nut-case, a mama's boy. His psyche is dominated by the battle between religion and sexuality. His compulsive masturbation is immediately followed by his compulsive promise to Jesus that he will forever renounce that sinful habit. He frightens himself with Biblical threats about licentiousness and attempts to attain holiness and superiority in the most absurd ways.
You may be surprised to learn that I became so fond of Wayne I put him into several chapters where he wasn't necessary for plot development. I gave him long eyelashes, curly hair, a sexy girlfriend, a fresh start in life, and the possibility of release from some of the shackles his religion had placed upon him.
My affection for and interest in Wayne led me to explore and relate to my own blindness, inflation, nosiness, self-righteousness, tendency to preach; my own creepy, nutty, mother-bound self; my own struggle between my body and the Body of Christ. I found some compassion for those aspects of myself and the energy to relate to them in a different way, through Wayne.'
And that is the way each of the beautifully crafted and sculpted characters affects us, the reader. People we think we would never care to know become embedded in our psyches through the careful skill of this author. Nothing is as it first seems: gossip and every form of corporal and spiritual dysfunction is explored and the joy of reading this book is discovering how very real these Texas townspeople (though they are not tropes, they could easily be from any small town in any state in this country) can become. Anyone who has ever spent part of this life in an Americana small town will smell the similarities - no, will recognize many of the people LaPlante has elected to plant in Texas.
Another aspect about this novel (and this may be due to the rich background in Jungian analysis the author brings to the pages) is the lessons of morality that are explored. No judgments are made - they don't need to be. The reader gets the pleasure of uncovering the secondary messages gently hidden here. This is a terrific read! And this debut novel is a winner. Grady Harp, May 10