CARTER CLAY by Elizabeth Evans


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Agonizing, uncompromising southern gothic that glares unflinchingly at the cultural motifs of sin and salvation as they reassemble the shattered life of a burned-out Vietnam vet. Just when we thought there was nothing left to be said about clichÇd, late 1990s redemption sagas, Evans (The Blue Hour, 1994) delivers a bitter, cynical morality tale that both ridicules and praises the morbidly American urge for salvation. Vietnam vet Carter Clay is getting his life back together, attending AA meetings and working as a short-order cook at a Florida panhandle roadside restaurant, when he runs into his nemesis, Finis Pruitt, a homeless psychopath masquerading as a Vietnam vet. Pruitt, a biliously evil white-trash Iago, fears that the all-too-trusting Clay will wake up to Pruitt’s lies and expose him as a fraud. So Pruitt gets Clay drunk and persuades him to drive into the Florida wilderness, where Pruitt hopes to kill him. But Clay loses control of his van and hits Joe, Katherine, and teenaged Jersey Alitz, vacationers on their way home from a visit to Katherine’s widowed mother, M.B. Milhause. Horrified at what he’s done, Clay drives off, ditches Pruitt, and tries to elude his guilt, only to wind up at the local hospital, where he learns from M.B. that Joe Alitz is dead, Katherine has permanent brain damage, and Jersey is paralyzed from the waist down. Clay becomes so obsessed with what is, after all, a horrific accident, that he gets a job working as an aide in the clinic where Katherine is slowly recovering. He also joins the Christian church where M.B. takes Jersey and Katherine to be saved by the hypocritical Pastor Bitner and grows so close to the Alitz family that he begins to fantasize about marrying Katherine—until Pruitt wanders again into his life to make a final, harrowing attempt to destroy Clay and his adopted family. A masterful story of simple people trying to understand God’s inhumanity to man.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019265-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


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