In Dawn Major’s debut novelesque–a hybrid between novel and linked short stories–Major weaves together tales of small-town eccentricities and characters, The Bystanders begins with the arrival (or invasion) of the Samples’ family to Lawrenceton, Missouri. The two “main” characters, Eddy Bauman and Shannon Lamb, come of age in the 1980s when big hair is big and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” blasts over the airways, but they couldn’t be more different. The original settlement—Lawrenceton, Bloomsdale, Saint Geneviève—that makes up Eddy’s town and his stomping grounds was sold as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Centuries later, old traditions run deep. Shannon Lamb, her abusive stepfather, Dale Samples, and tarot card-reading mother, Wendy Lamb-Samples, are outliers from Los Angeles who have landed in the middle of nowhere Missouri and Shannon is none too pleased.
In the title story, “The Bystanders,” Eddy Bauman discovers what it means to be a bystander to violence at the local gas station when Dale Samples arrives in town. The town comes out for a very lively nativity, complete with cussing and fighting in “Nativity,” where Shannon’s white trash ways are exposed. Eddy learns that love is a one-way street at a dirt track in “Summer Love.” In “Saint Damien of Molokai,” Shannon and Sister Evil go battle over her confirmation name and Sister Evil becomes self-aware through the art of beekeeping. Shannon Lamb comes of age on the hood of a Chevelle at the annual church picnic in “The Annual Picnic.” Wendy Samples predicts the future and saves her daughter from bullying girls in “The High Priestess.” Tina, a local waitress, decides too late that “love” a/k/a/ hard-partying, two-timing Dale Sample isn’t worth a road trip from hell on a Greyhound bus to Georgia in “The Dew Drop Inn.” Shannon Lamb and Wendy Lamb-Samples leave Lawrenceton shell-shocked, after a one-sided battle between Dale Samples and the town doctor in the final story and finale, “Calendar Days.”
These eight stories, sometimes light and humorous, other times dark and tragic, pay homage to small-town living. The title story, inspired by the psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect, is a theme that is subtly explored throughout, asking the question, “Do towns scar? And “Is there such a thing as an innocent bystander?”