Kirkus Star


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Welcome to Elmwood, Missouri, 1946–2000 . . .

And meet Neighbor Dorothy (she of Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, 1998), the motherly host of a radio chat-show broadcast throughout the rural Midwest and South from her Elmwood backyard, just one of a host of deftly drawn local eccentrics. Although she doesn’t think that there’s anything particularly odd about her family and friends—it’s more that odd things have a way of happening to them. For instance, the Oatman Family Southern Gospel Singers, who travel with Chester, a Scripture-quoting ventriloquist’s dummy, just decided to drop their tongue-tied daughter Betty Raye at Dorothy’s house. Betty Raye doesn’t say much, but she’s a quick study. And there’s Dorothy’s ten-year-old son Bobby, who daydreams about being the unrecognized son of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, when not sneaking off to take a blind singer on his mother’s radio show to thrill rides at the carnival. And poor Tot, whose senile mother steals the Christmas presents and hides them in the backyard. Tot wanders through the story like the lost member of an ancient Greek chorus (if ancient Greek chorus members wore chenille bathrobes). She has more than her mother to contend with: husband Dwayne Sr. is a drunk, and feckless son Dwayne Jr. is no use to anyone. Terminally gracious Ida, who believes that only the heathen eat without a tablecloth, clucks and fusses. Then there’s Hamm Sparks, a young tractor-salesman with the natural affability of a born politician. He surprises everyone by marrying Betty Raye, and one fine day she surprises them even more by becoming governor of Missouri. As the decades unfold, each character flowers in unexpected ways—and wonder of wonders, Hamm experiences a truly southern apotheosis and gets to heaven in a fishing boat.

Hilarious, charming, authentic—a winner all the way.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2002
ISBN: 0-679-42615-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2002


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