From Publishers Weekly
A precocious Southern boy tries to come to terms with his father's odd legacy in this first novel by short-story writer Singleton (The Half-Mammals of Dixie; etc.), a quirky coming-of-age yarn set in the tiny town of Forty-Five, S.C., in the 1970s. Mendal's mother runs off to Nashville when he's just a baby, leaving his father, an eccentric jack of all trades, to raise the boy alone. Mendal's upbringing makes it hard for him to fit in—"I had a reputation for being some kind of loner hermit freak at Forty-Five High School because my father made me read all of Durkheim and Marx and recite it daily"—but he has a few good friends: acerbic Shirley Ebo, "the only black girl preintegration at Forty-Five Elementary," and Compton Lane, also motherless. Much of the novel is an excuse for Singleton to string together a series of loosely connected anecdotes peopled by characters who might have stepped out of the pages of a Flannery O'Connor novel. At the center of most is Mendal's father, who alternately flummoxes and delights his son with his strange habits, playing pranks on neighbors he dislikes and compulsively burying random objects in the yard. Like a gentler Harry Crews, Singleton explores the backwaters of Southern life in this offbeat, episodic novel.
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Singleton's tales of southern eccentrics have always balanced bursts of hilarity with a compelling heft and complexity of feeling. In these stories, arranged to form a biography of Mendal Dawes of Forty-Five, South Carolina (last seen in The Half-Mammals of Dixie, 2002), the author offers something like a seven-to-one measure of laughs and epiphanies, and that's a well-mixed cocktail. Mendal's father is defiant of both religion and country-club mentality, a believer in social justice but also an oddball capitalist who stacks, buries, and otherwise hoards junk and buys desolate parcels of land for their certain future value. Mendal's own head seems only half screwed on at times, but his growing pains, while universal, are treated with freshness and Eli Whitney-like inventiveness. In between swipes at homogeneity and herd mentality, Singleton creates a dead-on portrait of the way we carry our childhoods into adulthood and how, despite vows to leave small towns, we can end up back home, still running, like stray dogs hoping a passing car will stop and give us a ride somewhere else. Keir Graff
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