His failure to report a suicide transforms a harmless bozo into a loathsome creep.
Benny Poteat climbs towers for a living, replacing bulbs, checking guy wires. One day, aloft, the 30-year-old Carolinian sees a naked young woman walking into a river at full flood. On the ground, he finds she has recorded her suicide; the video camera is still running next to her clothes and eight tapes. Benny takes everything but never gets around to telling the cops, his original intention, for he’s a voyeur and just has to watch those tapes. What’s more, he’s sitting on the biggest secret in his small town of Buffalo Shoals, and that beats flirting with his neighbor Doodle (an older woman) or getting five-dollar blowjobs from Dink (a guy) during his carwash. A business card in the dead woman’s belongings leads Benny to her sister, Becky Hinkey, an attractive midget who manages an apartment complex. On their first date, as Becky cries over her missing sister (Jenna), Benny savors the power of his secret, “so succulent that it hurt.” His corruption has begun in earnest. From the tapes, Benny (masturbating as he watches) learns that Jenna was making them for her film class; the reason for her suicide was depression caused by the loss of her breasts, infected after surgery for breast augmentation. By now, Benny is having sex with the midget, yet allowing her to be humiliated in public. When, at a 4-H show, Becky is assaulted by goats, Benny enjoys the spectacle, just as he enjoys her being trapped inside a giant pumpkin at a Halloween party. The final yucky humiliation for the long-suffering Becky comes when Benny forces her to look at a painting of her sister in a freaky artist’s exhibition entitled Beautiful Women Shitting. Benny, alas, never gets his comeuppance.
Granted that second-novelist Sherrill (The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, 2002) has written a cautionary tale, the overall effect is still deeply unpleasant.