An extended sitcom in prose as Chappell (Giving Up the Ghost, not reviewed, etc.) follows a young ne’er-do-well back home for her mother’s funeral.
Carrie Hudson has kept in touch with her kinfolk in Oysterback, Maryland, ever since she left home 20 years ago. Now 37, Carrie is still a drifter, sleeping on a futon in the back of her Econoline van and driving cross-country to buy and sell antiques—or, as her family would call it, junk—at garage, stoop, and house sales. A 21st-century drifter, equipped with cell phone and e-mail, she’s home in a flash when she learns that her Momma Audrey has died at a Florida alligator park (she fell into the pit). But that’s only the start of the Hudson family tragedies: Carrie’s brother Wayne has been arrested for fighting with airport security in Miami (they wouldn’t let him carry his Momma’s ashes on the plane), and her brother-in-law Delmar is having trouble getting the authorities to release the ashes that are now being held as evidence. So now Carrie is stuck in Oysterback, cooling her heels as she waits for the guest of honor, meanwhile catching up with the old boyfriends, shopkeepers, and gossipy neighbors she grew up with and was only too happy to leave behind. But there are some surprises—like Professor Jack Shepherd, an old boyfriend of her Momma’s who has recently been fired and is squatting in her house for lack of anywhere else to go. Or, more frighteningly, the escaped convict Alonzo Deaver (another one of Momma’s beaux), also hiding out in Momma’s place until it’s safe to be seen in daylight again. Living under the same roof with characters like these can make ordinary domestic traumas seem pretty tame.
Genial but hardly subtle: a nicely drawn tale that goes overboard on the local color—to the point of turning Southern Gothic into Mayberry Gothic.