A young man’s quest to keep his hometown’s paper mill from closing turns into an odyssey across a rural upstate New York county.
One man's affliction is another's gift, and Kenny Hopewell's "special gift" is a terrible memory and virtually no sense of direction. Entrusted by a family friend to deliver a plea for help that might keep his hometown mill from closing, Kenny misses his ride and sets out on foot across an isolated rural area between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks. Along the way he meets and comes to terms with some of the denizens of this lonely landscape—the Casimir family, who survive on the outskirts of the law; Johnny Percy, a Vietnam veteran still defending his family's abandoned homestead; and Gunnar Molshoc, a well-driller and "witcher"—refugees, like him, from the decay of rural America in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, several characters at the local college are struggling to define the college's role in the mill fight and to rescue the soul of higher education. John Harlan is an instructor attempting to write a meaningful dissertation that won't threaten his chances at tenure; Ernest Guppy's notion of himself as a political comic is driving his wife off the deep end; and college president Baxter McAdam and his administrative vice president are locked in a withering campaign to force each other out of power.
The novel's setting, a fictional county in upstate New York, is like a braided rug: smooth on the top, all knots underneath. Chained to a dying farm economy and losing its youth to greener pastures, it's the sort of place where refugees from Brooklyn might live next to Amish farmers, who might live next to Italian millworkers, who might live next to a bigot whose house was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Like so many rural American communities, it has the feel of a self-inflicted wound, and as Kenny comes to understand, sometimes you have to feel pain just to know you're still alive.
Ray Petersen teaches political science and history and lives in a lake-locked village in northern New York State. He is the author of Cowkind: A Novel.
"Ray Petersen's The Middle of Everywhere is an intricate and cunningly crafted Odyssey through the troubled small towns of the northeast. It's a keenly observed, taut, often very funny novel, stitched together by the wanderings of a wonderful, impaired Odysseus you won't soon forget. I liked it a lot. " — Thomas Cobb, author of Crazy Heart: A Novel
"Ray Petersen's vested epic, The Middle of Everywhere, does everything well. It is a billion-footed beast in running shoes. Swift, sensitive, and enduring, the novel is breathless in its transparent sustained dream of realistic replication of the blue blue-collar worlds of the steel and diploma mills. Run, run for all your lives!" — Michael Martone, author of Four for a Quarter: Fictions
"In his follow-up to the spectacularly funny and moving Cowkind, Ray Petersen has created another novel set in rural upstate New York that's sure to make readers laugh and cry and wish for a better way to care for each other. The Middle of Everywhere gives us that necessary compass point as we journey across time and space with Kenny in an attempt to save the Alta paper mill. Once again Petersen proves to be a storyteller of unparalleled wisdom and kindness as he helps us find our True North with characters we'll keep dreaming about long after the book's final page. " — Todd Davis, author of The Least of These