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The Half-Mammals of Dixie Hardcover – August 12, 2002
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While it often seems true that every town in America has become depressingly alike, fully franchised and chain-stored to death, short story writer George Singleton offers a compelling rebuttal in his second collection, The Half-Mammals of Dixie. Almost all 15 of its stories are set in or around a fictional South Carolina town called Forty Five, and Singleton's eccentric characters--flea-market hustlers, a fish aquarium salesman, a bogus "primitive" artist--are hard to imagine outside the narrow civic boundaries of his singular imagination.
A writing teacher and ashtray-collecting, flea-market hound himself, Singleton builds most of his stories around first-person narrators, evoking such writers as Flannery O'Connor, Barry Hannah, and Raymond Carver, but infusing each tale with his own brand of sly humor and outsider skepticism. Singleton is particularly good at capturing the rhythms and peculiarities of southern speech, as in this passage from "When Children Count": "You sound exactly like my dead sister," this woman said, pushing her full cart into Tammy's backside. "I ain't never heard nothing like that. Say this: 'I will never, ever order a club sandwich here, what with the ptomaine.' Say it. Say."
While most of the stories are funny--"Richard Petty Accepts National Book Award" is an absolute marvel of conception and execution--a few of the tales that hit hardest are much darker. Especially haunting is "Bank of America," which centers around four childhood friends who still gather annually as adults in a swamp-land tree house, from which they fish for turtles and are forced, one fateful year, to confront the consequences of past misdeeds. Despite the story's title, which refers to a character who works at a national chain of banks, Singleton tells the story in a voice that's as unique as the flawed, but mostly likable, characters who populate his hometown. --Keith Moerer
From Publishers Weekly
Singleton expands upon the peculiar conceits of his debut collection, These People Are Us, in these 15 offbeat stories. Set mostly around the little South Carolina backwater of Forty-Five, they take on everything from racism to alcoholism to head lice, with plenty of laughs along the way. A hapless father clumsily tries to use his nine-year-old son to win back his high-school sweetheart (now the boy's teacher) in "Show and Tell," sending him off to school with old love notes, corsages and jewelry he had given her and making the boy pass them off as precious antiques. Another father launches a one-man crusade against a racist newspaper deliverer in "Fossils." "What Slide Rules Can't Measure" details the bizarre lives of denizens of the flea market circuit, while the title story follows an aquarium salesman to a bizarre motivational seminar, where he meets a scarred woman who sells audio books to the blind. "This Itches, Y'all" features a boy who fled youthful ignominy as the star of an educational film on head lice, then returns to his 25th class reunion to find unexpected celebrity. As in the first volume, the narrators tend to be relatively sophisticated men (or boys) who find themselves surrounded by feckless "pallet-heads." Some may find the tone of intellectual superiority condescending, but it's usually tempered by self-deprecation, to wonderful comic effect.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
If you are a Southerner, this book will ring with truth, because Mr. Singleton's characters are so obviously around the block, if not next door. If you know that prosperity can be measured in the number of cars you have up on blocks in the FRONT yard, you're in the neighborhood. If you're afraid to get of I-95 between the Virginia border and Florida, or I-10 between the Louisiana border and Houston, this is the book for you. Or, if you took I-64 thinking you'd go through West Virginia and turned around where it ended (Fie, Senator Byrd!)...you need to get right with Dixie.
I could hardly recommend Mr. Singleton's stories higher--up with Confederates in the Attic (nonfiction), or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (possibly fiction). His characters refer to Nietzche, get regular calls from the FBI and John Walsh, or play 20 questions as a marital ritual, or find themselves thinking about cosines, and sines for "no reason in particular." And, they tend to think of lead pipes for uses not related to who did what to whom in the drawing room. They have no clue, but they're right on.
I highly recommend you get into this book, and it compares in frankness with Walker Percy, without the I Went to Medical School in New York puttin' on airs. Regular folks, who know the difference between a live oak (you can look it up) and poison ivy, at least.
Yep, it ITCHES, y'all. Rather be a lying dog than a dog lyin'.
As a fan of a good short story in general, I think this is quite readable and enjoyable. It was recommended to me by a friend, (Mark) a literature professor and personal friend of the author. I pass that recommendation along to you.
If you loved the first ccollection, as much as I know you did, you have to get this one.
As you would suspect with a collection of stories, I enjoyed some of them more than others. My favorites (and the ones Carl had to hear about) are:
* Show-and-Tell - is the story of Mendal Dawes. When his mom deserted the family, his dad began calling himself a widower. Mendal's third grade teacher is one of his dad's old girlfriends, so in an effort to woo her, Mendal's dad gives him all kinds of crazy things to take to school for show-and-tell, like a love letter written by a famous person that contains the line, "That guy who wrote that "How Do I Love Thee" poem has nothing on us, my sugar-booger-baby." The way Mendal and his dad end up handling this potential relationship is priceless.
* Public Relations - tells the story of V.O., who loses his job when he proceeds to tell a potential client his theory of the decline of the American educational system at a business dinner. He has a crazy theory of how the women's movement has ruined the schools in this country and, as you can imagine, it doesn't sit well with the female client his company's trying to lure.
The Half-Mammals of Dixie is a solid collection of short stories with lots of quirky characters that readers will delight in. I think those who live in, or have a love for, the South will enjoy these stories the most.