- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (February 26, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618221387
- ISBN-13: 978-0618221387
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,767,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Watermelon King: A Novel First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Wallace returns to Ashland, Ala., the setting of his debut novel, Big Fish, with this fable about a young man discovering his roots in a Southern town with a dark tradition. Eighteen-year-old Thomas Rider knows nothing about his parents, except that his mother, Lucy, died while giving birth to him in Ashland. He heads to the town to quiz the locals, whose testimonies reveal that the beautiful Lucy was much admired by the men in town when she arrived from Birmingham to look after her rich father's property. Yet as she learned more about Ashland, Lucy (who, like most Ashlanders, is white) became appalled at the town's racism, its narrow-mindedness and above all, its yearly fertility rite: the town held a festival during which the oldest male virgin was deflowered in a watermelon field. Lucy deemed the ritual barbaric, and sabotaged it by announcing that she was pregnant by the mildly retarded pariah, Iggy Winslow, who was to be that year's virgin. The celebration had to be canceled, and Ashland's crops promptly died out. Thomas learns not only his mother's story, but also the true identity of his father-and he also has an opportunity to revive the watermelon crop. Wallace never quite finds the right tone for this over-the-top fantasy, which is sometimes more sentimental kitsch than Southern gothic. Lucy's moral certitude is presented simplistically (she's kind to black folks and the village idiot). It's hard to take seriously her outrage over the comical fertility ritual. Overall, this is a slight misstep from an author with much more potential than is demonstrated here. Rights sold in France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ashland, Alabama, is the former Watermelon Capital of the World--where "no one thought to grow them; they seemed to grow themselves." When 19-year-old Thomas Rider arrives there with questions about his beautiful, willful mother, he learns that her life and death are inextricably tied up with the mythology of Ashland and its former glory. The town owed its miraculous fecundity to the annual crowning of the Watermelon King, a ritual observed for the last time the year of Thomas' birth. Through interviews with locals, Thomas learns that his mother was responsible for the demise of the Watermelon Festival and the town's subsequent decline--and that many of those left behind see him as their hope for the future. Wallace recounts the history of Ashland by letting his characters speak for themselves, their matter-of-factness in contrast to the outlandish nature of their stories. This is a unique and spellbinding novel, an unforgettable southern tall tale with extraordinary characters. Big Fish (1998), the first of Wallace's novels to feature Ashland, has been optioned by Columbia Pictures. Meredith Parets
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I say similar and not the same because Wallace has clearly grown as a writer; he has a magical way of telling a story that has you guessing what really happened all the way through. THE WATERMELON KING was even more strange than BIG FISH, and I loved it. I haven't read such an original writer in a long time. it's as if a southerner was channeling Garcia Marquez or something -- indescribable, but fantastic in every sense of the word.
Once again, the plot of this story is driven by an elderly Southern gentleman's predilection for telling ridiculously tall and unbelievable tales that result in dire consequences. It's the same, nearly exact character as found in Big Fish--or should I say, caricature? And that, really, is the main problem here--thinly sketched characters that borderline on cliché. Unfortunately, this holds true for the setting as well; you've all seen this American South before--in simplistic 'B' movies.
Additionally, I found the story's attempt at mysterious Southern Gothic lore to be tedious and a bit confusing--a shame, because this diversion seems to be one of the very things that, much like the wild and monstrous watermelon vines mentioned throughout, overgrows and chokes a story that, at the beginning of the novel, seems to promise big things.
If you've not read Big Fish (or seen the movie) give this a try--it's essentially from the same shelf--however, it is not a fully realised tale of it's own. It seems to be a product of one too many dips into the same well.