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Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Memory of Junior


For many readers, there is something particularly appealing about comic novels set in the South.  Perhaps it goes back to their exposure as young readers to the classic novels of Mark Twain.  It might even be that they see a little of themselves and their families in the plots of these novels.  Are comic Southern novels, after all, as popular elsewhere as they are in the very part of the country in which they are set?  I have to doubt it.

Clyde Edgerton’s nine novels are filled with quirky characters so busy living life according to their own rules and traditions that they seldom stop to consider what the rest of the world might think of them and their efforts.  His books are, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, but his humor is more often of the type that makes one smile at the antics of his characters as they navigate their way through Edgerton’s rather eccentric plotlines. 

In Memory of Junior is no exception.  Although I had read six other Edgerton novels, I was unfamiliar with this seventeen-year-old novel (1993) prior to discovering a pristine first edition copy of it in a local used-book bookstore.  I figured I would enjoy the story and, despite an overabundance of characters (15-20 main and secondary characters) in such a small book, I was correct. 

Brothers Faison and Tate Bales were deserted by their mother when Tate was just a toddler.  Glenn, their father, eventually remarried and gave his boys a half-sister by the name of Faye.  Now, Glenn Bates and Laura, his second wife, seem to be in a contest to see which one of them will die first, a contest that will determine the immediate futures of Faison, Tate, and Faye.  If Glenn dies first, the family farm passes to Laura and, eventually, to Faye.  If Laura dies first, the farm and the valuable land on which it sits passes to Glenn and, finally, to his sons.  The Bales find themselves involved in one of the most bizarre death watches imaginable since it seems that both the elder Bales could die at any moment.

The real fun of In Memory of Junior comes from Edgerton’s use of several first-person narrators to tell the family’s story, both past and present.  These narrators range from the old black housekeeper who has made a career of caring for old white people before they die, to Uncle Grove, a Bales family outcast because he is the brother of Glenn’s runaway, first wife.  Along the way, readers will watch as Uncle Grove tries to wrangle a spot for himself in the family cemetery, Faison and his ex-wife fight about what name should appear on her young son’s tombstone, and as Tate’s teenaged son surprisingly bonds with Grove.

If you are not offended by graveyard humor, this one is great fun.  I will warn you, too, that if you want to keep up with the story, you need to pay particular attention to the family tree Edgerton provides at the front of the book for your reference.  It is difficult enough to keep up with twenty or so characters even with the tree, impossible to do so without it.

Rated at: 3.5
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