Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Batavia is a nondescript backdrop, familiar to most people even if they have never been to the town itself; it is a typical town of the mid-1960’s. Batavia serves as the typical middle-class American town with typical middle-American virtues and vices, a perfect setting in which to explore the effect of the changing times on individual characters. The marks of the changes that are affecting the rest of the nation at this time become evident: an influx of new residents of different races and nationalities, a rise in violence and drinking, changes in labor and the work ethic. The town cannot cope with these changes; it is dying and decaying, as are many of its citizens in this novel.
Placing the novel’s magical, mysterious plot in this realistic setting grounds it and makes it easier to relate to, though not entirely believable. Batavia faces a confusing and brilliant terror that is both new and familiar. The Sunlight Man is a former resident of Batavia whose return after an absence of fifteen years brings new questions to the town and its police chief. He personifies the questions he asks about religion, sex, race, and politics, and police chief Fred Clumly personifies Batavia’s reaction to these questions. All those who interact with the Sunlight Man are forced to examine how they look at these important questions. Clumly, the representative of law and order, is unable to keep order, first in his own station, then in his town, and finally in his conception of the universe in general.
The farmlands surrounding Batavia are the last remnant of the agrarian culture that once dominated the country. Ben Hodge is the only main character who actually farms for a living, although many of the characters live, or once lived, on farms. The Hodges’ history and downfall as a family is also Batavia’s history and downfall.
*Buffalo. Upstate New York city that although only a half hour distant from Batavia is, in the eyes of its inhabitants, worlds away. For the small-time crook Walter Benson (alias Walter Boyle), it is impossible to make a living in Buffalo, because its inhabitants are more cautious than those of a small town. He relies on the small-town sense of safety to provide him with the opportunities for stealing cash from people’s homes.
While Benson cannot work in Buffalo, Will Hodge, Jr. cannot work in Batavia. He is comforted by the impersonal nature of the city, where it does not matter that he is the grandson of a congressman. Hodge views Batavia as a transitional place. Buffalo is the next evolutionary step beyond Batavia, and Hodge embodies this transition of values from small town to big city.