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Why Dogs Chase Cars: Tales of a Beleaguered Boyhood (Shannon Ravenel Books (Paperback)) Paperback – Deckle Edge, September 17, 2004
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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When this book fell into my hands, I didn't realize at first it was the same author, until I read the blurb on the back cover. This book is a collection of stories, which flow together quite nicely, and evoke so clearly the quirkiness of some of our small southern towns. Maybe it takes a certain type of Southerner to appreciate this fully, but I think that 'most anyone could.
The stories all are told by Mendal Dawes, who is raised by his eccentric (some might say drunken or plain out loony-tunes) dad after his mother skipped town . Mendal's greatest desire is to escape from his hometown of Forty-Five SC. The stories take the reader through Mendal's childhood there, where his father buries stuff (ie fake Burma shave signs advertising a Baptist church, yard sticks in preparation for the conversion to the metric system, and other random objects) in their backyard, creates a fake toxic waste dump nearby to stymie future land developers, makes Mendal recite Marx and Durkheim, and dreams up scads of other oddball plots and schemes. Mendal is periodically aided and abetted by his friend Compton (also motherless, whose father is Mendal's dad's drinking buddy) and Shirley Ebo ('the only black girl preintegration at Forty-Five Elementary'). One thing for sure...I'll never look at Chinese Handcuffs in the same way.
And why do dogs chase cars? "They can't form a noose without opposable thumbs. They don't know how to turn on the gas in the kitchen. It's impossible for them to slit their wrists. They don't have trigger fingers." But ultimately, maybe it's because, like Mendal, they just want to get out of town.