HONKYTONK MAN by Clancy Carlile

HONKYTONK MAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On the road, Oklahoma to Nashville, 1938--as a 14-year-old dustbowl lad comes of age in the footloose company of his raunchy, alcoholic, gifted-country-singer uncle (who also happens to be dying of TB). Yes, it's a familiar, movieish mix of sentiment and dueling-banjo slapstick, but Carlile's young narrator Whit Wagoner spins it out efficiently enough, especially in the opening account of Uncle Red's careening surprise appearance, from California, during a dust storm at the barren Wagoner farm: he's broke, drunk, recklessly driving a gorgeous Packard limousine, and bursting with confidence about an upcoming audition for the Grand tie Opry. But trip money is needed (Whit's sad folks are totally busted), and Red does some mesmerizing singing and picking at the local nightspot, plus some midnight chicken-stealing with Whit as reluctant chauffeur-accomplice. Result: chicken-feather chaos, chasing cops, the jailing of Red, and Whit's spontaneous rescue mission (he brings down the jailhouse wall with Packard power). So now they're criminals on the lam, heading for Nashville, giving quick, tearful goodbyes to the family and taking Whit's harmonica-playing grandpa along for the ride (he wants to go home to die in Tennessee). From there on, unfortunately, the picaresque doings become ever more predictable: a slapstick encounter with a bull; an attempt to collect a debt in Tulsa (involving two holdup capers); a gushy, would-be Red Stovall groupie who stows away in the trunk; Whit's first prostitute and first reefer; Red's incorrigible binges and dashing moments; farewell to Grandpa. And finally they do get to Nashville, where Red's audition is a triumph. . . till a coughing fit clues the Opry folks into the truth: Red's a ""lunger"" and therefore not a good broadcasting risk. But despite Whit's pleas, instead of going into a sanitarium, Red keeps drinking and singing, recording his repertoire with his last dying breaths (just like Jimmie Rodgers) . . . while Whit goes into showbiz too, teaming up with groupie Marlene, who does indeed (thanks to one drunken, on-the-road tryst) bear Red's baby. . . . A strictly hand-me-down scenario, with cornily heartwarming contrivances and wall-to-wall stereotypes. But Carlile provides enough humor, grit, and atmosphere to roll it painlessly along, movie-style, complete with lots of opportunities for long stretches of trendy Country-and-Western music on the soundtrack.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster