Small Town Odds


"Wrought with strikingly sublime humor and a decidedly quirky cast of characters, Headley's first novel details a week in the life of a young man as he struggles for redemption in a stifling West Virginia way station. Small Town Odds is a deftly lyrical debut that introduces us to a distinctively fresh voice in contemporary fiction."
Barnes & Noble Best of 2004

"Told with all the charm of Richard Russo at his finest, Small Town Odds is a celebration of parenthood, and what can happen when one man reconciles with his past. A breezy, enjoyable debut from a major new talent."
KFOG, San Francisco

"Headley's winning wit and his compassionate, delightful prose mark him as a bright new talent."
Publishers Weekly

"This is a sweet, candid tale about finding contentment when life doesn't go as planned."


Eric sat on his milk crate, brushing a pale coat onto the fence.

"You're Eric Mercer, aren't you?"

Eric turned and saw three boys standing there.

"Yeah," Eric answered, "who are you?"

"Donnie," said the de facto leader.

"Okay," Eric said. The awkward pause didn't seem to bother the kids nearly as much as it did Eric, so he decided to try to get to the bottom of things quickly, and directly. "What are you doing?"

Donnie took this to be a breezy, conversational question and seemed flattered that Eric cared about his plans. "Oh, we're just going over to watch the football team practice," he said. "What are you doing?"

Eric shrugged and held up his paintbrush. "Paintin' a fence."

Donnie looked down one length of the fence, then back up the other. "How can you even tell where you've been?" he finally said.

"What do you mean?"

"It all looks the same."

"Well see, I started down there and I moved in an orderly fashion to here. That's how I know where I've been."

Donnie considered this for a moment, then shook his head. "Oh," he said.

"Oh?" Eric asked. None of this made any sense to him. "What grade are you in?"

"Fourth," Donnie answered.

"I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but you really should have been able to figure that one out."

The kid to Donnie's right had apparently caught up with Eric in growing tired of Donnie's small talk. He took a small step forward and pointed at Eric. "My dad says you scored three touchdowns against Cedarsville once."

The boys looked at Eric as though they expected him to do something extraordinary. But he just nodded his head and said, "Yeah, I did."

Donnie seemed to think he could get back in on the conversation now that it was on the right track. "And you beat 'em," he said with unclear inflection.

"Was that a question?" Eric asked.

"No, you beat 'em" Donnie said, but quickly added, "Right?"

"Yeah, we beat 'em," he said.

"What was that like?" asked the kid who'd cut to the chase.

"I don't know," Eric shrugged. "It was . . . better than losing I guess."

The kids looked at Eric, a little disappointed. Apparently they'd expected something more dynamic than "it was better than losing" to describe what was possibly the biggest win in Pinely Wildcat history.

"How come you're not playing for the Steelers or something?" asked the kid who hadn't said anything yet. "If you can score three touchdowns against Cedarsville, you should be playing for the Steelers."

"Well if I was playing for the Steelers, who'd paint this fence?" Eric asked.

The kid looked confused. "Anyone can paint a fence," he said.

"Well, apparently Donnie here can't," answered Eric. "He'd just paint the same section of the fence over and over again. Which is a waste of time. And paint."

The kids weren't sure what to do next. They'd expected some type of football hero. Instead they got a guy who could talk in circles and paint a fence really well. Donnie took one last stab at it.

"Do you think Pinely can win on Friday?" he asked.

Eric pointed at the three of them with his paintbrush. "Why don't you guys go on over there and watch them practice for a little while. You know, scout it out. Then, come back here and tell me what you think." He turned around and dipped the brush into the can. "I'll be right here painting." Then he stopped, turning to Donnie. "Actually, I probably won't be right here. I'll be further down that way."