Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: Welcome to Higby by Mark Dunn

Summer just seems like the proper time to read quirky Southern-set novels, doesn't it? All I'd need is a mint julep and a funeral home fan and I'd be all set although this isn't exactly a mint julep type of book. Rather is is a small town, Bible Belt sort of book.

Higby, Mississippi may not be a hellfire and damnation kind of place but there is a clear demarcation between appropriate and sinful there as the various characters stumble towards redemption. Opening with local police pondering what drives young Clint Cullen to climb the old watertower regularly simply to sit above the town and then having him crash through the rusted railing, landing squarely in a neighboring pool, the reader knows this won't be your garden variety novel. It is people with a large cast of characters, each of whom is facing his or her own challenges, wondering which path to choose.

Stewie Kipp is a born again Christian whose ardent faith is driving away his fiancee, who mourns the good time days they used to spend together. Carmen Valentine is a retiring woman who is working up the courage to actually sit next to the man she'd like to date and whose hobby is crafting with dry spaghetti. Clive's father Oren is a preacher who is struggling with his own faith, with his relationship with Clive, and with his growing attraction to the massage artist whose establishment on the outskirts of town is dodgy. Euless Ludlam is a loyal employee, although a little slow, and is about to inherit a staggering sum of money. Talitha Leigh is all about a good time, whether that means drinking at a bar or going home with nameless men who is rescued/kidnapped one morning by a strange vegan cult intent on offering her a peace in captivity (and re-naming her the very ironic Blithe). And finally Tula Gilmurray keeps losing her beloved brother Hnk, both physically and mentally as he is fogged in the beginning stages of what would appear to be Alzheimer's.

As disparate as the characters seem, they are all intricately intertwined as only folks in a small town can be. Better yet, they are all well-fleshed out and individual characters who make entertaining reading. There is a lot of humor laced throughout this novel about the connections between people and between hearts. Each chapter's epigraph is a Bible verse that relates cleverly and directly to the action in the chapter. Having read Dunn's previous epistolary novel, Ella Minnow Pea, I was delighted to find that his ingenuity continues in new and different ways in this novel. Definitely clever and thoroughly entertaining, this was a delight to read.

1 comment:

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