A novel about one old man’s fight against the machinations of city hall.
When this winsome, winning story begins, Thomas Culhaven, crotchety but likable senior citizen and narrator, is sprucing himself up in preparation for a confrontation with the town council. His family helped found the little Illinois town of Culhaven, but the place has prospered sufficiently for the council—led by the corpulent Mayor Cramden—to get ambitious. A big part of that ambition is building a new highway to connect Culhaven with its nearest neighbor, and the problem with that plan is the proposed highway would run right over Thomas Culhaven’s 1860s home. Culhaven has been lonely in the years since his beloved wife’s death—although he’s enjoyed the company of his dog Bud, who nobody else can see or hear—and the town’s attempt to use the machinery of eminent domain to oust him from his home is the last straw. He and Bud concoct a plan that’s more beer than brainstorming, and at the council meeting Culhaven invites the hated mayor to study the documents spread out on the table before him. When the man bends down to do that, Culhaven whips out of pair of scissors and snips off a chunk of the mayor’s big, outlandish mustache. It’s an absurd little gesture worthy of Booth Tarkington or Sinclair Lewis, and the narrative follows its fallout in laconic but eminently readable detail. Culhaven is taken off to the town jail, freed on $20 bail and becomes something of a celebrity, his mustache-snipping seen as a daffy kind of symbolism. There’s quite a bit of dry humor throughout (Culhaven would be a choice comic role for Robert Duvall), despite the serious issues—the damages of corporate greed, the quiet desperation of old age—at work under the surface.
An accomplished first novel that effectively blends folklore with the evening news.