Big, boisterous and hugely enjoyable, Clark’s second tracks the wild ride of a disgraced preacher across an American heartland pockmarked by scams and rackets.
Two lousy kisses. That’s all it took, plus some rigged DNA, to end Joel King’s marriage and ministry. Joel, a well-liked Baptist in Roanoke, Virginia, had unfortunately exchanged kisses, on church premises, with Christy Darden, the most gorgeous, pampered, sluttish, and conniving 17-year-old in all Virginia (Clark paints her with a wicked glee). The unworldly minister has pled guilty to misdemeanor charges and done six months of jail time, little realizing he was an entrapment victim. He emerges from jail penniless, only to be served with divorce papers and Christy’s civil suit for five million, while all he has is a ride to his sister’s place in Missoula, Montana. His driver is a businessman, Edmund Brooks, a loyal member of his congregation. En route, Edmund proposes that Joel join him and his partner, a black lawyer in Las Vegas, in a scheme to defraud insurance companies. The deal hinges on “borrowing” high-priced jewelry. Joel, a good and honest man, immediately declines. In Missoula, he joins Sophie, a struggling single parent, and her small son. There, he finds two low-end jobs, but sheer economic necessity drives him to accept Edmund’s offer. What follows is a heist that goes wrong, and eventually Joel is confronted by FBI agents. Meanwhile, before their depositions, he is desperately trying to work out a deal with the utterly untrustworthy Christy. All this is as hilarious and exciting as Clark’s debut (The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, 2000); but in this “grown man’s coming-of-age story,” the author takes that caper to another level. Joel’s spiritual struggle is unremitting in a world where the black and white hats don’t divide cleanly: Edmund is a likable rogue, while Joel’s probation officer, working his own racket, is total slime.
With its impressive sweep and density, Clark’s work triumphantly clears the second-novel hurdle. Don’t miss it.