Elvis forms a wary friendship with the pauper, who may just be his long-lost brother.
Long-time character actor Carlson captures a different brand of drama in a debut novel that imagines the alternate history of the King’s twin. Redneck laborer Ray Johnston has a good heart, but the man can’t catch a break to save his life. At the age of 42, his only treasures are a broken-down pickup truck, a trailer in need of a paint job and one and a half hard-earned acres of dirt. He collects his thoughts by pounding an old guitar and singing the blues, a coincidence that adds to his uncanny resemblance to another Memphis icon having his own troubles in 1977. A rediscovered diary leads Ray to the somewhat terrifying idea that he may be Elvis’s big brother Jesse Garon, mistakenly reported stillborn. The author’s convincing rendering of the working man is touching, illustrating Ray’s humiliating experiences as he struggles to keep jobs, maintain his relationship with a local barmaid and pay the nursing home in which his ailing father lives. In fact, contrasting Ray with his paranoid, drug-addled sibling could have been a garish exercise. Thankfully, when “E” finally appears, Carlson presents him gracefully as a man much like his brother, one whose life has gotten completely out of hand in different ways. The two brothers form a tenuous bond, though their reunion is plagued by troubles ranging from tabloid temptations and Vernon Presley’s misgivings to a botched kidnapping that leaves Ray in worse straits. “What great twins they were; one became the most famous person in the world and the other got his friends ripped off for every penny they had and couldn’t quite keep up his house trailer payments,” Ray muses. Things end badly, as they did for Elvis, but the King’s parting gift to Ray will bring a smile even to the most tangential Elvis fans.
A conceptually intriguing portrait of the man Elvis might have been if he weren’t all shook up.