Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Walking Across Egypt (1987)

Walking Across Egypt is my first 2008 re-read and I am relieved to report that it was even funnier and more touching this second time around than it was when I first read it in the late eighties. That might very well be because I opted for the excellently “performed” audio version of the book this time rather than the printed version. I suppose I will never really know for sure. But one thing that I do know is that Norman Dietz, the book’s reader, created such a perfect voice and delivery for Mattie Rigsbee, the story’s 78-year-old main character, that he had me laughing out loud at Clyde Edgerton’s dialogue on a regular basis.

Mattie Rigsbee believes that she is “slowing down” and she is not bashful about pointing out to family and friends the numerous things that she can no longer do as quickly or effectively as she used to do them. Of course, Mattie is still more alive than most of the younger people around her, and she still works circles around most of them, but by her own standards she has definitely begun to slow down. Most of all, she realizes that if she is ever to have grandchildren of her own that either her son, who is over 40, or her 38-year-old daughter is going to need to get with it pretty quickly. Hers is not the only clock that is ticking. She’s read, after all, that a man’s sperm gets pretty tired after he passes the age of forty.

Mattie’s life, strange though it may sound, took a turn for the positive when she met the town dogcatcher, a fortunate meeting for both of them, actually. The dogcatcher, who had come to Mattie’s to pick up the stray dog she called about, became her rescuer when he cut her out of the bottomless rocking chair she had accidentally wedged herself into several hours earlier. That was, of course, fortunate for Mattie. As a result of that timely meeting, the dogcatcher found himself being treated to regular home-cooked meals by Mattie; that was fortunate for the dogcatcher.

But more importantly for Mattie, the dogcatcher had a nephew who was in juvenile detention. The real heart of Walking Across Egypt is the relationship between Mattie and 16-year-old Wesley whom she takes to visiting at the reformatory. Wesley, who preceded his stay in the reformatory with some years growing up in an orphanage, gave Mattie a new reason for living. She believes strongly that she should follow the Lord’s instruction to “love the least of these my brethren” and is certain that Wesley qualifies as her personal “least of these my brethren.”

Walking Across Egypt is funny but it is filled with little truths that Edgerton offers via the many wonderful characters that surround Mattie and Wesley, from eccentric neighbors, to slightly hypocritical church friends, to family members who understand neither of them. This one is guaranteed to make you laugh…and to leave you with a few things to ponder when the laughing stops.

Rated at: 5.0

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