A second chance at love: A review of Liberty Lanes

by Phyllis Barber

Liberty Lanes
Robin Troy
192 pages, softcover: $22.
University of Nevada Press, 2011.

Robin Troy's second novel, Liberty Lanes, is a big-hearted story of ordinary people, their hopes, secrets and longings. It begins quietly in a bowling alley in a small Montana town, where Nelson Moore, a 74-year-old stalwart of the senior bowling league, waits for an early morning interview with Hailey James, a reporter for the local Free Press. Nelson has become a hero after saving the life of Fran Murray, another member of the league, by dislodging a chicken-wing bone from her throat. Hailey wants the scoop. How did he know what to do when the bone caused trouble? When did he learn the Heimlich maneuver?

Nelson, an old-school Western widower who's uncomfortable when Hailey says "God" instead of "Gosh," wonders how the world can make stories out of such small things. But in a brief moment when his mind scrambles chronology, he tells Hailey: "Fran Murray and I are lovers." Truth be told, he and Fran haven't been an item in years, and he currently has a steady girlfriend. But his statement becomes a catalyst that opens doors for the other members of the Monday-Wednesday-Friday bowling league. After one of them reads Hailey's published article out loud, they begin to suspect that Nelson is living a secret life, and a glimmer of hope stirs inside: Perhaps they could do the same. Maybe they haven't been dismissed from the pursuit of happiness just because they've gotten old. They might even have a shot at true love again.

Troy captures the feel of small-town life in the West. Nelson remembers his youth in Havre, Mont., where he sat on the front porch and listened to deer passing by at night. He enjoys making paintings -- the Clark Fork River at sunset, a picturesque barn up at the Missions -- and hangs out in the Fivemile, the kind of eyesore of a bar that's found in most every rural hamlet. In this celebration of the dignity of everyman and everywoman, Troy grants her characters the gift of recognition and imbues them with an admirable, quiet heroism.

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