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by Clyde Edgerton

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2003
ISBN: 1-56512-195-3
Publisher: Algonquin

For sheer likability it’d be hard to beat Edgerton’s affectionate portraits of small-town oddballs in the South. His eighth outing is a breezy comedy, tinged with sadness.

Carl Turnage is a mild-mannered, thoroughly decent guy, but not a commanding presence in his North Carolina town; if only he were a little taller, his voice a little deeper. A middle-aged bachelor, he was raised by his mother and her two sisters; the sole survivor is his aunt Lil, now at Rosehaven nursing home and shrinking fast, though still an occasional driver, and that’s a problem. Carl (he and Aunt Lil are real close) is bracing himself to tell her she must stop, just as we brace for more old-folks-behind-the-wheel jokes; but they still have some real zip in this go-round, shot through by the old folks’ somber awareness that their final spin may be the beginning of the end. The other principal here is L. Ray Flowers, a flamboyant if loopy former evangelist whose sermons might begin with your feet (“Don’t be afraid to buy expensive shoes”). He went through a bad patch when a woman he was “healing” fell off the stage and killed herself, and now he has a cockamamie scheme to combine churches and nursing-homes, but so what? He gets Carl back to writing country songs (their gig together is Carl’s dream come true), and he sure perks up all the old ladies; the exception is Darla Avery, who remembers their nightmare date 40 years ago, when L. Ray masturbated in the car after the eighth-grade dance. This is all the ammunition Rosehaven’s hard-nosed owner needs to have L. Ray, an obvious troublemaker, evicted. Meanwhile, Aunt Lil has started “sundowning” (“They get confused after the sun goes down,” explains the nurse). There can be no happy ending here, but even a stroke and a death are handled with a light touch.

Underplotted, but with the fast pace, you scarcely notice: another small gem from Edgerton (Where Trouble Sleeps, 1997, etc.).