An audacious novel, hilarious and moving by turns, offering some sharp and startling variations on southern themes. Daugharty (Pawpaw Patch, 1996, etc.) has always exhibited a special empathy for outsiders and eccentrics. Here, the hardscrabble Scurvy children, down-and-out even by the low standards of Swanoochee County in Georgia, face their greatest challenge to date when they have to come up with the money to bury their mother, who has died soon after giving birth to her fifth child, a girl. The two grown sons, Buck and Pee-Wee, are willing but hobbled by the nature of their lives. Buck is a talented idler. Pee-Wee is a mildmannered but dedicated drunk. Alamand, only 14, is an extraordinarily gifted artist, usually lost in his imagination. It's left, finally, to Earl, an unlikely hero, to save the family. The laid-back Earl is quietly, thoroughly in love with Loujean and manages, not so much by plan as by pure luck mixed with decency, to get the money, leading to a funeral at which old Scurvy scores with the community are settled, in a scene both wonderfully funny and moving. The story is narrated in the alternating voices of the characters. While all of them are distinctive and convincing (Daugharty has a gift for rendering the pace and color of southern rural speech without making it seem either corny or unbelievably inventive), it's Loujean who stands out. She's bright, despairing, tartly aware of the nature of her family and her life, and quietly determined to do what's right. She accepts, without much complaining, the job of raising her new sister (whom she names Joy--short for Joyful Noise). Calmly, too, she accepts Earl. In Daugharty's world, women are the only true realists, the ones who know the worst and go on anyway. Another strong, highly original work from one of our most promising, and idiosyncratic, authors.