Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Sure Am Using the Word Bildungsroman a Lot Today, But If the Genre Fits. . .

Eugene Walter won the Lippincott Award for The Untidy Pilgrim, his first novel. Its opening lines are often quoted, at least around certain parts:

"Down in Mobile they're all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy's county seat."

The novel follows our protagonist - who isn't named, so I'll just call him "Fosdick," which I stole from Horatio Alger, who really has a way with names - from his family home in central Alabama down to the coast, where folks are "Frenchified," and thus (he has been told) not to be trusted. It's good, if ultimately useless, advice, because it doesn't take long before our hero is drinking in unsavory dens, carousing with all manner of eccentrics, and falling in love with his uncle's (much younger) wife.

A surprising amount of the book is taken up with sittin' and visitin', eating and drinking, and the telling of outlandish stories/really good gossip about relatives who never actually appear in the book. This is more charming than you might think. The repartee is witty, the eccentrics truly eccentric, and the prose bops along breezily (although a face-saving side trip to New York after a speakeasy punchout does slow things down a bit).

In short, The Untidy Pilgrim is ribald, witty, and altogether refreshing, especially when you set it alongside the Falknerian school of Southern Gothic gloom'n'doom. It's like the sherbert course of Southern Lit...

...if sherbert were surprisingly healthsome to the brain and soul, moreso even than broccolli. . .

...which, I suspect, the author would suggest is often the case.

No comments: