Headley's offbeat, bighearted first novel paints a delightful portrait of small town life, as experienced by 24-year-old Eric Mercer, a sardonically charming underachiever. Eric lives and works in tiny Pinely, W.Va., where drama means betting on the annual (and futile) efforts of the high school football team to beat archrival Cedarsville. The bright spot in Mercer's life is his precocious five-year-old daughter, Tess, a happy accident from a tryst with the beautiful Gina Stevens, whom Mercer and his pals pined for throughout adolescence. Headley intercuts Mercer's present-day activities—drinking
and fighting in bars, male-bonding with dim-bulb best friend Deke, handymanning at the funeral home—with his teenage antics of drinking in the woods, male-bonding with Deke and loving his girl, Jill Dupree. Bringing past and present together is the death of Jill's father, which forces Mercer to finally face his beloved Jill, back in town after six years, and come to terms with Gina, whose one night of companionship he paid for in the loss of both his college dreams and Jill's love. Headley makes up for the slight plot with his winning protagonist, whose gift for avoidance is as profound as his flair for understated humor. "Slacker grows up" is a familiar trope, but Headley's winning wit and his compassionate, delightful prose mark him as a bright new talent.