The Lord works in humorously mysterious ways in this Southern picaresque teaming a jaded car thief and a young, impressionable Bible salesman.
The wry, latest from Edgerton (Lunch at the Piccadilly, 2003, etc.), set in his native North Carolina, concerns the unlikely bond between a pair of disparate characters. Preston Clearwater, who looks vaguely like Clark Gable, is a slick criminal who has graduated from stealing 1,600 pairs of aviator sunglasses during World War II to participating in a car-theft ring run by a war buddy. Clearwater’s work requires an accomplice to drive the cars he steals. Providence provides him with a partner when he picks up a hitchhiker named Henry Dampier, a 20-year-old Bible salesman who is very gullible and naive though not necessarily stupid. Henry has a scam of his own, sending away for free Bibles from missionary organizations and then selling them door to door. Raised by a pious aunt and a more fun-loving uncle after the freak accident that killed his father, Henry is trying to find his way in the world, looking to the Bible as a moral compass, though confused by the mixed messages it sends. Preston convinces Henry that the car thief is really an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a car-theft ring, and he offers Henry more money than he makes selling Bibles, while allowing him to sell Bibles on the side. Chapters alternate between ones titled “Exodus” (Preston and Henry on the road in the early 1950s) and “Genesis” (Henry’s early years of the 1930s), in that order, before culminating in “Revelation.” Along the way, there is a little sex (which complicates relationships) and a little violence (which leads to discovery). Yet plot is secondary to character, with most of the humor deriving from the contrasts between the partners whom fate has brought together.
To the reader’s amusement, Henry discovers more about himself, the Bible and the ways of the world than he’d ever anticipated.