The lives of two bereaved men seeking respite on the southern highways parallel and converge in Miss Corpus
, Clay McLeod Chapman's brutal and rewarding debut novel. Will Colby has returned to his Virginia home from a six-month tour in the merchant marines to find his new wife and lifelong love dead on the kitchen floor. Will had promised her a honeymoon drive to Florida, and after collecting her remains in travel coolers, he heads southward. In Florida, Phil Winters's teenage son has been found at the bottom of a swamp inside the van he lost control of during an asthma attack. Recovering his son's decomposed skull from the dredged vehicle, Phil departs on the road trip to New York he had planned with his son in the hope it would bring them closer.
On the way to their foreshadowed collision, both men travel through eerie landscapes populated by curiosities, such as the boy with an ear of corn attached to his deformed arm, or the son of a failing motel owner who manipulates car accidents for profit. Will and Phil's dreamlike first-person accounts are interrupted by the narratives of these marginal characters, as well as random radio broadcasts, providing a fragmented, dimensioned view of each man's story as well as the South as a whole. Full of random violence and backwoods oddities, Chapman's landscape often resembles the gothic terrain of Flannery O'Connor or the early works of Cormac McCarthy, and he offers precise, unflinching accounts of decay and cruelty, such as a burning motel "fed by the flesh of so many children that I believed the sun to be one big mass of burning bodies." Yet he balances such images with a continual sense of humanity, while his engaged prose describes a world of abiding mystery and rebirth. Though an often difficult read, Miss Corpus contains a strangely apt and ultimately weighty sense of optimism. --Ross Doll
From Publishers Weekly
This dizzyingly imaginative first novel by playwright and short story writer Chapman (Rest Area) is the entwined tale of two bereaved men who go on the road in search of redemption. At 19, William Colby returns to Virginia from four months at sea to discover his bride dead on the kitchen floor. In Florida, Philip Winters's teenage son is found decomposing at the bottom of a swamp. Colby had promised his wife a highway honeymoon, a drive south all the way to Florida. Winters's son had always wanted to travel north. Unaware of each other, the men embark on their personal pilgrimages, finally colliding with one another on I-95. Along the way, they come across a gallery of grotesque characters, from a little boy who has a corncob for an arm to a woman who gives bloody birth in a highway tollbooth. In a slow, simmering style that melds Southern folklore with a gothic sensibility, Chapman concocts a powerful tale that is suspenseful and moving. Much of the narrative is fragmented, related through shifting points of view. Using the road as his frame of reference, Chapman coins shocking similes: "my name lumbered out of my mouth like a dying dog-just hit by a speeding car along the highway." The book is heavy with horror-dismemberment, torture, arson and freakish car crashes abound-but Chapman's knack for storytelling and his vigorous prose establish a dramatic momentum, moving the tale to a violent, tragic crescendo. Suffused with a compassion, the novel transcends its bizarre premise and suggests that the magic of literature can make sense of life.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.