Dawn Major’s, THE BYSTANDERS (Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2023), weaves together small-town eccentricities and characters beginning with the invasion of the Samples family to Lawrenceton, Missouri. Townie, Eddy Bauman, and newcomer, Shannon Lamb-Samples, come of age in the 1980s when big hair is big and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” blasts over the airwaves, but they couldn’t be more different. The real town of Lawrenceton and the surrounding area were part of the Louisiana Purchase, and centuries later, the old-timers still speak Paw Paw French and time-honored traditions run deep.
Though some say small towns are big families, Lawrenceton doesn’t want anything to do with the black sheep of the family. Shannon with her “Girls Just Want to Fun” attitude and fashion, her fortune-telling, Pagan mother, Wendy Samples, along with her hard-partying and abusive stepfather, Dale Samples, are outliers from Los Angeles. Shannon might as well have landed on Mars when Wendy and Dale decide they need a do-over in the countryside. Though Shannon is none too pleased, Eddy is enthralled by her Valley Girl ways. In a town of annual church picnics and beautiful landscapes, the Samples’s trailer on the outside of L-Town is an eyesore to the townsfolk and the family is quickly snubbed. Shannon and Wendy, who could really use some friends, must learn to rely upon themselves to claw their way out of poverty, abuse, and especially Dale.
In The Bystanders–a novel told through linked narratives–Major subtly explores the psychological phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. As William S. Boroughs said: “There are no innocent bystanders…What are they doing there in the first place?” The characters often feel they are mere witnesses to what life throws at them, incapable of change. THE BYSTANDERS—sometimes light and humorous, other times dark and tragic–pays homage to Americana and the rural people of the Northern Mississippi Delta region of Southeast Missouri.