April 05, 1982 12:00 PM

by Peter Davis

The author, with the help of a friend in the Census Bureau, selected Hamilton, Ohio as his subject for this nonfiction book because it was a town where he could combine “social research with [the] techniques of storytelling.” He starts with a wedding and uses the reception and then a high school basketball game to begin defining this town of 63,184. He watches a fundamentalist preacher rid a wife-beater of the Devil, and from a police patrol car he looks at the ugly side of life that exists even in Hamilton. One of the most revealing scenes in Home Town takes place in a bar where three men talk about ex-Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes while the barmaid and her friend talk about a lost love. The counterpoint shows the painful narrowness of this world. Then there’s a Saturday spent at Mallie’s, a beauty parlor run by a woman who is a Pentecostal Christian. After a day of gossip and dirty jokes, she tells a beautifully poignant story about her mother’s death. The author, a maker of such prizewinning documentary films as Hearts and Minds and producer of the current PBS series Middletown (about Muncie, Ind.), is a first-rate storyteller. His sociological analysis sometimes intrudes, but not enough to spoil this fresh, engrossing book. (Simon and Schuster, $14.95)

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