An addictively likable first novel, about small-town life during the Depression, offering both lowbrow humor and homespun wisdom.
When their teenaged (and unmarried) daughter Chastity dies after childbirth, Willa and Worthy Giberson are left to raise her son Cappy as their own, a life-change that will provide both heartache and pride as Cappy grows up in Old Kane, Illinois. After virtually ignoring the child during his first six years of life, Worthy decides to take over the raising into manhood of Cappy, turning the boy into a rascal of a storyteller, not unlike himself. When Cappy enters school, he decides to climb his way to popularity by spinning tall-tales, to the amusement of everyone involved spare Miss Self, the local schoolmarm, disappointed that Cappy has apparently inherited none of Chastity’s brilliance. Meanwhile, Cappy befriends Beany, a sheltered boy who becomes his best friend for the next 15 years. The years pass and are filled with the marvelous and mostly inconsequential events of growing up rural: Worthy and his old friend Bum taking Cappy night hunting for the fearsome “wampuss cat” (which turns out to be a bologna cookout with ghost stories; Cappy’s first crush, on the buxom Dimple; and winning first prize in a newspaper contest. It’s the latter that sets him on the road to his destiny, putting all those storytelling skills to good use. Just when the novel seems as if it’s irretrievably slipping into the benign landscape of the Saturday Evening Post, Rolens seamlessly offers some reality: Cappy and Beany entering into some homosexual experimentation, the undertaker collecting snapshots of his dead clients’ penises, and the constant, menacing presence of Drayton Hunt, local gangster and Cappy’s biological father. As Cappy comes of age, life in Old Kane turns deadly serious as WWII commences, Willa suffers a stroke, and Beany is murdered, breaking the spell in which time stood still in his beloved town.
A satisfying, authentic, all-American charmer.