The Depression years are made a mite less depressing by the likable protagonist of this latest of Harington’s ongoing Arkansas Ozark chronicles.
He’s “Hoppy Boyd, the happy moving showman of moving pitchers,” an itinerant entrepreneur who brings good cheer in the form of cowboy movies to the inhabitants of the several towns along his route. Hoppy (real name: Landon) isn’t all that happy, however, burdened by a strong sense of his failure to amount to much and by chronic sexual frustration exacerbated no less by the infrequency of his experiences than with the nagging fear that he’s an inept lover. Matters begin improving when Hoppy permits teenaged stowaway “Carl Whitlow” to become his assistant, delightedly discovers Carl’s true identity and bolsters his traveling shows with such inspired innovations as magic tricks and buttered popcorn. Trouble looms, in the unambiguously threatening form of hellfire-and-damnation preacher Emmett Binns (who finds error and blasphemy in even popular favorite Hopalong Cassidy’s G-rated exploits), and in the outwardly pleasing one of manly storekeeper Arlis Fraught (both Hoppy’s declared best friend and his most troublesome rival). The novel meanders along amiably, and pretty much plotlessly—until all Hoppy’s films are stolen, and in desperation he exhibits Max Reinhardt’s classic 1930s film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the complications kick in. The ensuing pleasures include a rib-tickling summary of the play’s dizzying plot (from Hoppy’s hornswoggled viewpoint), and a series of mock-heroic romantic escapades that deftly echo Shakespeare while gently revealing what fools these good country people be. It’s all somewhat ragged, but Harington sells it skillfully, providing some luscious zingers: “Singing cowboys ought to be rounded up and shot,” he writes, and “There’s no understanding the human heart, let alone the human tallywhacker.” That last one belongs in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
Harington rides again.