SEARCHLITE STOP resolves enigmatic issues. For example, why do cows wear necklaces? What's the best defense against an attacking casket? What future does life hold if you can't be a midget? How can an Iowa town of 200 souls dispose of its dead whale? How can a croquet set and a suit of long winter underwear aid the attempt of three small children to bombard Madison County's courthouse with a Civil War cannon? And, why wait three days to invite a burglar to breakfast?
The answers evolve as this story unfolds: After fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run accident he caused, the 18-year-old protagonist lies about his involvement, fails to accept the responsibility, and seeks to escape the consequences. His dilemma is accentuated by a host of offbeat characters whose sidebar stories dispel the widespread myth that life in a small Iowa town is quietly pastoral and idyllic. These strikingly different supporting characters highlight scenes that range from boisterous to bizarre.
The story chronicles 36 hours in the fall of 1951 and is set in Madison County, Iowa. Although it is the same locale Robert James Waller picked for The Bridges of Madison County and lies near Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, the people and action in Searchlite Stop create an extraordinary counterpoint to those books.