Capsule review

FAMOUS ALL OVER TOWN. By Bernie Schein. University of South Carolina Press. 354 pages. $29.95

On the surface, Somerset seems to be a charming, bucolic, Lowcountry town. Not so, according to Bernie Schein who tells it like it is in his “Famous All Over Town.”

Somerset is a fictitious name for Schein’s hometown of Beaufort.

It is a town where everyone knows everyone, with a lively mixture of blacks, whites, Jews and Marines from the nearby base, where the story is built.

It begins with Sgt. Jack McGowan marching 71 marine recruits at night into a swamp, where three of them die. (This is based on the true-life night march on Parris Island in 1956). The marine psychiatrist Bert Levy is called in to evaluate McGowan, and Levy’s deep, sometimes disturbing, analysis of the sergeant reveals emotional scarring.

The story goes on to cover the trial, as well as the various goings-on in this small town, including the sheriff’s affair with the local brothel madam, and her daughter’s alienation as the only black in an all-white school.

Schein knows his town and its people well. Though “Famous” has plenty of lively characters, the story often drags or feels disjointed. There are many drawn-out sentences, and the different stories often are without a coherent connection. On the other hand, the language is colorful and the slurs are many.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer in Charleston.