Fourteen interconnected stories depict the strange and ineluctable process by which an odd teenager grows into a semi-serious young man.
Singleton’s (The Half-Mammals of Dixie, 2002) tales of the South are baroque enough to make Flannery O’Connor look like a Puritan—for, in the author’s eyes, South Carolina (his home state) is a phantasmagoria of dreamers, cranks, charlatans, rogues, and simple homegrown loonies. We see the world here through the eyes of Mendal Dawes, a hapless 15-year-old growing up in the small town of Forty-Five in the 1970s. Mendal’s father Lee—who buries fake barrels of toxic waste in his backyard, thinking it’ll deter property development—would probably be considered an oddball in Woodstock or the East Village, let alone Middle America. In Forty-Five, he’s not even an eccentric. This is a town where Mendal’s Little League coach (a mill worker with a penchant for self-inflicted wounds) has only one finger on his pitching hand—which may explain why the team has a record of losses rivaling the old Washington Senators or the earliest years of the Mets. Mendal naturally takes the world he was born into for granted, but there are times when he begins to wonder what he’s doing here—like when he concludes that Lee murdered his mother, or when the village idiot assaults him for working on a Sunday. Sensitive, intelligent, and fairly well-read (his father makes him recite passages from Durkheim or Marx before dinner each night), Mendal is not cut out for life in Forty-Five, where segregation is still a de facto reality and the students sell marijuana to their teachers. But what good is it to know about the larger world if you can’t get to it?
As funny as it is, Singleton’s humor has a sharp edge, and his episodic account of life in the hinterlands is as poignant as it is outrageous.