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Autobiographical sketches concerning the coming-of-age of a white boy brought up by a black earth-mother in the pre-integration South: a book spicy with local color but otherwise tending toward the cute and affected. The setting is the environs of Dixie Roads, Louisiana, where the ""main street was still red dirt, with wooden planks for sidewalks."" It's 1942, and little has changed since the Civil War. Cook's always-absent parents put him (known as ""Cotton Candy"") under the care of Big Ruby, his ""mammy,"" and other Negroes who live in four shotgun shacks behind the ""big house,"" an old ruined plantation that the family has bought. From this vantage point, ""Cotton,"" with long curly blond hair, spins out a series of vignettes that begin with Cotton dressing up like a beauty queen and parading through town twirling a parasol, and end when he decides, years later, to cut his long locks and turn into one of the ""good ole boys."" Much of the material is sexual, though it's handled delicately enough, in keeping with Cotton's prepubescent point of view: the son of a local merchant tries to kiss the effeminate Cotton (in his dress, with his parasol); Big Ruby sends for the ""Madame X Reducing Girdle"" but comes to realize that ""all the colored men like big-assed, big-tattied women! And dat's fact!""; Cotton and his sidekick come across 14-year-old Jake having his way with a girl in an empty boxcar. Elsewhere, 12-year-old Jewel is raped by local soldiers who are using the plantation for war games; Clara, a New Orleans exotic, is caught in bed with another woman's man and finally gets her throat slashed; and, in ""Miss Elladee's Strange Baby,"" an off-color joke is stretched to story length when Jimmy Sue, a hermaphrodite, is born. Pungent but undigested voyeurism, with a dash of exhibitionism thrown in for good measure. For the most part, this is the raw material out of which a Eudora Welty would make art.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1990
Publisher: Mercury House