WORK SHIRTS FOR MADMEN by George Singleton


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A nominally comic novel in which a Southern artist contends with his wife, his drinking, his buddies and his out-of-control life.

Sculptor Harp Spillman has been so far inside the bourbon bottle that when word comes to him he’s won a commission from Birmingham, Ala., to construct a dozen 12-foot metal angels out of nuts and bolts, he can’t remember having even applied. It turns out that he hadn’t. His wife, Raylou, applied on Harp’s behalf, believing that a healthy artistic focus—and the promise of a healthy paycheck—would help him quit drinking, at least temporarily. Raylou is a craftsman who, as narrator Harp informs us, makes “goofball face jugs” whose popularity defies rational scrutiny. “Goofball” is not a bad description of the novel as a whole, for the narrative begins with Raylou rescuing snapping turtles from a biotoxicologist. We also find out that Harp’s reputation as a sculptor is on the skids because ice sculptures he cunningly crafted for a Republican fundraiser revealed other images as they melted: a Grand Wizard under the sculpture of Jesse Helms, Mussolini under Strom Thurmond and Lucifer under Charlton Heston. Harp tries to straighten himself out through the 12-step program of Carolina Behavior but resists much of the way. Singleton sets up a series of comic plot contrivances—for example, it turns out that Frank and Joe’s metalwork business has been split up into Joe’s Nuts and Frank’s Bolts—but they don’t add up to much. This is the kind of novel in which the narrator eats Mallo Cups, Hershey Kisses and Little Debbie cakes and washes them all down with Yoo-hoo, and characters play Drunken Jeopardy, whose categories include moonshine, famous characters from Tennessee (“Jim Beam”) and whiskies with a wild-animal theme (“Old Crow,” “Wild Turkey”).

The canned southern whimsy is rather self-consciously cute and provides gags rather than character development.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-15-101307-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2007


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