In the Land of Second Chances

Soon after bed and breakfast owner Wilma Porter asks God to send help to her little town of Ebb, Nebraska, a well-dressed traveling salesman named Vernon Moore shows up at her door. He ostensibly sells games of chance, but seems more intent on rescuing the town’s citizens — most notably, the owner of an independent (and financially distressed) department store whose daughter is dying of a painful and incurable disease.

Most of the action is predictable, and no cliché is left behind as the novel progresses. Moore’s backstory is never fully revealed — he seems to have appeared out of thin air — but leaves in his wake many people who have been repaired emotionally, financially, psychologically and yes, spiritually.

George Shaffner isn’t a gifted writer — he almost never uses contractions, which gives his dialogue a clunky, unrealistic feel, and he apparently consulted Midwest Generic Casting to populate his fictional community. For all her charm as an inn owner, Wilma Porter is too distant a narrator to reliably relay the tale. But the story has definite charm and an upbeat message, which saves it from becoming an unbearably saccharine fable.

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