Barn Dance
by Chuck Brown


At the beginning of Chuck Brown's debut novel, Barn Dance, a plane flown by a rock star crashes into a barn in rural Minnesota. Gabby Cox, the shy bachelor farmer who owns the barn, soon finds his land invaded by rock fans and the media. With the help of his friend Gwen Todd, a librarian in the nearby town of Haysboro, the reclusive Gabby learns to deal with the encroachment of the outside world; he even allows some of musician's dedicated followers to camp out on the farm. `Shriners', he calls them, because they look upon his barn as a shrine.

Brown, a past Whistling Shade contributor from Olivia, has fun with the clash of cultures precipitated by the airplane disaster-town versus country, pop versus folk, world-weary jadedness versus rustic intolerance. It's the sort of setup David Lodge might employ, and Brown has a similar way of seeing all sides of an issue. He seems to truly like all of his characters, even Hester Cronk, Haysboro's conservative Christian state rep, who has convinced herself that the `Shriners' out on Gabby's farm are a Satanist cult.

The kids in Barn Dance are pretty listless, for rock n' roll roadies, while there is much too much digression about Gwen Todd's sordid Hollywood past. The various themes aren't really given time to gell, and an implausible ending doesn't help things. Even so, it's hard not to like this book. It's an amusing, soft-hearted novel from the Minnesota hinterlands in the tradition of Jon Hassler, a zany tall tale that has a few golden kernels of wisdom squirreled away in its barn.

- Joel Van Valin