By Castle Freeman Jr.
176 pages. Steerforth.
Alonzo Boot, a.k.a. Whizzer, proprietor of the defunct Dead River Chair Company—these days a dilapidated sawmill—is the point man for problems the law can't solve. He is also the sly, gallant heart at the center of Go with Me (Steerforth), Castle Freeman Jr.'s elegant little thriller about cunning versus cruelty, set in a rural Vermont town that time forgot. When Lillian, a testy, attractive young woman stalked by Blackway, a homegrown bad guy, finds her way to the mill, Whizzer and his slovenly Greek chorus of boozy locals hunker down to some serious (and extremely funny) jawboning. Get out of town, they tell her, but Lillian's a pistol; she insists on confronting the murderous Blackway whatever the cost. Whizzer offers her two unlikely champions, a laconic geezer called Lester and a muscle-bound mill hand called Nate (“Smarter than a horse, not smarter than a tractor”). To watch Lester's strategy unfold as the trio stumbles toward Blackway's hideaway is pure delight, thanks to Freeman's streamlined storytelling, dead-on dialogue, and lyrical descriptions of the bleak, woodsy landscape. This is a meticulous New England miniature, with not a wasted word.