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I had the pleasure of attending the Ozarks Studies Symposium in September, where I talked about the language we use to describe some Ozarks conflicts. I also bought three books that I’ve been reading, two new and one old, and I want to talk about them in the coming weeks.

I just finished Steve Yates’ novella this morning, and it left me with that sense of sad pleasure one often feels after finishing a touching and beautifully written book. It’s a slender volume, 155 pages, but it feels like a longer one (in a good way).

Although the title says “Sandy and Wayne,” it’s really Sandy’s book: Sandy Coker, a smart, vulnerable, determined, hard-shelled, aching-for-love lead inspector for the Arkansas Highway Department. The complications of her character grow so naturally out of her actions as she interacts with Wayne Sheridan, the dirt foreman for a Missouri-based contractor that has won the bid to build a section of highway in Sandy’s district, that by the midpoint of the book I felt not only that I knew Sandy, but that she would know me as well. Of course, one never actually gets to meet a fictional character, but such was the richness of her portrayal.

Sandy and Wayne circle each other, bounce off, and come together in unexpected ways, but this is no simple romance. Human longing and loss beat through every page, not just in the title characters, but in the minor characters and incidents, in the landscape itself as it resculpted to let the interstate roar through. Sandy and Wayne has sweetness and sadness in near-equal measures, and in that respect it’s a lot like life itself. It’s available from Dock Street Press or your local bookstore.

Steve Yates is a Springfield native who spent summers of his youth working for the Arkansas Highway Department. You can tell he was an observant summer employee by the wealth of detail, and that’s part of the enjoyment of this novella. He now works for the University Press of Mississippi, but you can tell he still has Ozarks blood in his veins by the things he writes. His next novel is coming out from Unbridled Books next spring, and I can’t wait to read it.