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 As amiable and charming as all his novels, Edgerton's latest about small-town life brings together his usual cast of drunks, church-going Baptists, and southern eccentrics, all of whom encounter the Devil in the form of a traveling ne'er-do-well. This devilish Jack Umstead (a.k.a. Rusty Smith, a.k.a. Delbert Jones, etc.) even dares to pretend he's Jesus--the true sign of the Antichrist--in deceiving the sick and elderly Dorothea Clark. Neither Dorothea nor her two sisters (who never married and are thus known as the Blaines), who run a chicken- and ice-store, were ever quite right, and they still can't understand why Dorothea went off and married that vulgar Clark fellow, Claude T. of the gold ring and Cadillac. Most of what we learn is through the eyes of little Stephen Toomey, the coddled and asthmatic son of Harvey and Alease, Alease herself a righteous and pretty woman not immune to Umstead's blandishments. Everyone in little Listre, a town that ``looked settled, ripe, timid, kind of stupid,'' is touched by Umstead's evil presence. He seduces the dreamy-eyed Cheryl Daniels, the sister of Stephen's best friend, Terry (Terry is additionally providing a spiritual crisis for the married preacher, Mr. Crenshaw). Umstead also pals up with Stephen's drunk Uncle Raleigh, a vet who lost an arm during WW II. But Umstead bides his time for his big score--he hopes to rob the Blaine Sisters when the next lightning storm comes, since that's when they abandon their home for their sister Dorothea's. Little Stephen, who wants to cuss, drink, and smoke like the men of Listre, is lucky enough to witness Umstead's bloody end. And he discovers that it's a lot more enjoyable than the readings from Aunt Margaret's Bible Stories, a volume that provides parallel texts throughout the novel. Jokes about breasts and flatulence punctuate a lighthearted treatment of good and evil and the simple world of those who are weak but seek salvation. An always enjoyable read. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56512-061-2
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997


NonfictionPAPADADDY'S BOOK FOR NEW FATHERS by Clyde Edgerton
by Clyde Edgerton
FictionTHE NIGHT TRAIN by Clyde Edgerton
by Clyde Edgerton
FictionTHE BIBLE SALESMAN by Clyde Edgerton
by Clyde Edgerton