Oline Cogdill


Roadside oddities fascinate me.

You know those huge pieces of kitsch that dot American roads, such as the giant catsup (that's how it's spelled) bottle in in Collinsville, Illinois; the Wigwam Village Motel in Cave City, Kentucky; the world's largest chair in Aniston, Alabama, and the endless parade of giant coffee pots that serve as restaurants, nightclubs and shops.

And don't forget the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and the "world's largest basket," which is the seven-story corporate headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Company in Ohio.

Perhaps Harlan Coben feels the same way.

In the excellent Stay Close, Coben concentrates on three people whose past influences their past. Two have risen above what happened years before; one is mired in it.

Coben's 22nd novel again shows his acumen for delving into our most intimate fears.

And then there's Lucy the Margate (N.J.) Elephant, a six-story building shaped like an elephant. Lucy is the world's largest elephant, and the only one in America designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Lucy serves as a meeting spot for two characters in Stay Close. She is a safe place that reminds them of the good times they had.

"Lucy, hovering in the dark, silhouetted by the moon. As always, no matter how many times she had seen her, Megan stared up at Lucy in childlike awe."

According to roadsideamerica.com, Lucy was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty, a real estate developer with a knack for promotion. Weighing 90 tons, covered with 12,000 square feet of sheet tin, Lucy was a functioning building, serving first as a real estate office, as a summer home, even briefly as a tavern, until unruly drunks nearly burned her down. She also gave people a reason to come to Margate City while Lafferty gave his real estate pitch, according to roadsideamerica.com.

While Lucy brings a bit of levity to Stay Close, she never interfers with Coben's serious plot.