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Book Reviews   |    
Stopping by Earth

Stopping by Earth
by by Scott Gibson. ; Charleston, South Carolina, CreateSpace, 2011, 226 pages, $13.95

Reviewed by M. Bennington-Davis, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2011; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.00621520a
View Author and Article Information

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

Dr. Bennington-Davis is chief medical and operating officer, Cascadia BHC, Portland, Oregon.

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The book Stopping by Earth is more than a story; it is a collection of stories about a collection of people. There is no central character. There is a central family (the Robules), and Gaberdine Robule's age in each chapter helps ground the reader in time (which moves back and forth over the course of more than 40 years). She is accompanied by her daughter, husband, sister (who gives the book its name by describing Gaberdine as a “creature only half of this world, somebody merely stopping by earth on her way to someplace else”), and various and sundry other key people in the small Colorado town the story is rooted in.

The focus begins with Gaberdine's dreamy view of the world in 1973, 16 years after arriving as a bride to a farm in Colorado. She imagines creating the Rose Trellis Tea Room; then the plots multiply with her daughter Michy's irritable adolescent frustration, her tolerant husband's practical love of his other-worldly wife, a female friend who is a wannabe lover, and an adolescent boy hired more out of her husband's compassion than from the need of a hired hand. If these are the starting line-up characters, there is an extremely strong bench, including a couple siblings, a senior local denizen, a couple teachers from the local school, the operator of the local café (who frets about possible competition from the Rose Trellis Tea Room), and a few others who each have a story developed around them. But just as we've become acquainted with Gaberdine's eccentric version of life in the Colorado countryside, the book takes us back in time to 1957, to introduce us to the young Gaby and the people who inhabited her world. Flash forward, chapter by chapter, to Michy's adolescence and eventually to Gaby's senescence, albeit so skillfully and smoothly that we hardly are aware of time passing.

It's an amazing feat that the author can keep so many characters and stories interwoven, yet make it easy for the reader to keep track of and remain curious about each one throughout the book. But it works!

Gibson is some kind of artist, weaving story around story, until we have a complete sense of an entire town over a period of 40 years. The shifts from character to character and time to time are so subtle that we hardly notice Gaby's moony thoughts slipping toward dementia or Michy's teen-aged dreams moving to concerns of being a mother of four. All plots and characters are created equally in this book, both ageless and aging, and both compelling and mundane.

I read this book during a summer vacation, and it left me so mellow and satiated that I couldn't pick up the mysteries and thrillers I'd brought along.

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