A Good Baby

Institute History


Bright and early one morning, an abandoned newborn is discovered in the stark North Carolina woods. The hapless finder is a hermetic young loner named Raymond Toker who leads what appears to be an irredeemably amount-to-nothing, devastated life: he currently dwells in a root cellar below the charred remains of what was once his family's home. Setting out by foot over steep mountain paths to rid himself of this unexpected bundle, Toker has little idea that he will soon find himself at the center of events simultaneously treacherous, romantic, and magical.

Tromping through his sparsely populated hamlet, knocking on doors and offering the baby up for inspection, Toker arrives at the home of one Josephine Priddy, called "Roby" for her taste in silky dressing gowns. Roby's got a chip on her shoulder and a front porch full of items for sale—both are signs that she wants to quit these parts and move off to the city where she briefly escaped once before. Roby doesn't have much interest in the baby. In fact, she hates babies. But shy, clamped down Raymond Toker is another matter altogether.

Toker's quest to unload the baby leads him to the local general store, where three wizened sages gather around the wood stove, dispensing tall and often ribald tales. One of the elders, Hindmarch, warns Toker of the danger in carting some unknown mother's baby around. Just then, a car horn's honk announces the arrival of a stranger to these parts: Truman, a black-suited traveling salesman in a big black car. He's stopped for gas and is hoping to peddle his wares, an array of "Ameri-Clean" products that could surely spruce up this desolate hollow. But when Toker comes out front, baby in his arms, Truman starts with a jolt of spooked recognition.

Truman's draw to this baby girl is quite natural, for even though he left it for dead, it's his own. But why would Toker find himself increasingly reluctant to locate the baby's mother, acting for all the world like he just might claim it for himself? The answer lies in part in the baby's possession of a special pull, a charm which occasionally results in her lifting off the ground and hovering there for a moment in something close to flying. Everyone who encounters the baby succumbs to her powerful lure, including a naive pregnant girl named Sorrel, who wants to swap her unborn for the newborn. The baby's magic eventually brings Toker and Roby together, softening the hardest of hearts. But the baby can't dispel a growing malevolence. A dirt-streaked, wandering child searches the back roads for her lost teenage sister; the sister's murdered body is discovered in the woods; storms mysteriously rise and fall in the valley; and Truman's determination to have the baby for himself imperils all those who impede his progress.

What Toker and Truman encounter in and around themselves leads them to an inevitable battle-for-the-baby, with new and unexpected configurations of "family" assembling in the aftermath. This classic Southern fable of good and evil unfolds in a world at once atmospheric and fateful, a place where cataclysm serves best to open the door for redemption.

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