OTIS LEE CRENSHAW by Rich Hall

OTIS LEE CRENSHAW

I Blame Society
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KIRKUS REVIEW

It’s hard to tell which is dumber: this unfunny satire or the redneck protagonist who narrates it.

Imagine Jeff Foxworthy with a mean streak of cultural elitism. Or perhaps a Deliverance sketch on Saturday Night Live, on which comedian-writer Hall (Things Snowball, 2003) was once a cast member. The novel purports to be the memoir of Otis Lee Crenshaw, whose life seems to circle around serving jail time on a series of outlandish charges, marrying a series of six women named Brenda (actually five; he marries one of the Brendas twice) and writing an occasional country song inspired by his sorry existence. Interspersed with the accounts of the courtship of Brenda(s) are court transcripts from cases in which Crenshaw has insisted on defending himself, employing arguments that defy legal logic. The plot never really builds or goes anywhere, mainly serving as an excuse for allegedly humorous observations on trailer-park culture, jailhouse society, white-trash women with zeppelin-sized breasts and the immortals of country music (where Crenshaw—or perhaps Hall—proves less than reliable as a critical historian). Along the way, the narrator achieves a reconciliation of sorts with his estranged father, Jack Daniels Crenshaw, a man who (wouldn’t you know it?) likes to drink. The narrative also involves itself with conspiracy theories concerning the conviction of James Earl Ray (murderer of Martin Luther King, and boyfriend of Brenda #1) and the rise of an unworthy country star named Narvel Crump (boyfriend of Brenda #2). The early stages of the novel suggest that Hall might give the book some comedic bite by sinking teeth into the thematic meat of class consciousness and the American dream, but as it proceeds to settle for easy laughs at obvious targets, the mirth quickly wears thin. What might have worked for five or ten minutes on TV can’t sustain itself for a couple hundred pages.

Where Crenshaw blames society, readers should blame Hall.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-349-11818-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Abacus/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2005