By EW Staff
September 24, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

LITTLEJOHN Howard Owen (Villard, $18) Howard Owen is a gentle writer whose unassuming but first-rate novel catches you off guard, like a clap of thunder on a clear day. His Littlejohn McCain, a rural North Carolinian, harbors a terrible guilt from youth. In his 80s he gets a chance-possibly by coincidence, possibly by fate-to make the kind of reparation that only a most remarkable man would undertake. Owen’s indirect, sometimes rambling storytelling swells into a perceptive chronicle of the South, old age, wisdom, and the implacable reach of family history. This first novel-originally published by tiny Permanent Press-takes a few chapters to find its feet, but ultimately joins the best current Southern fiction in its ability to tread the fine line between wishful sentimentality and unyielding realism. A- D.A. Ball