978-0-7862-3356-4 / 9780786233564



Publisher:Thorndike Press



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About the book:

The lifeline of Melinda Haynes's novel Chalktown is a rutted, meandering dirt road that winds its way past the murky waterways and through the one-shop towns and backwoods of George County, Mississippi. It's also a red flag to anyone looking for a good dose of surreal Southern gothic. Here is the isolated shack of a disintegrating white-trash family, there the village dwellers who communicate solely by writing notes on the chalkboards in their front yards. One character is grotesquely scarred by an adult bout with chicken pox, while others are eaten up by less identifiable diseases and appetites. Dreams are pursued, discarded, and eerily enacted, always in the sort of luscious, graphic prose you would expect from the author of Mother of Pearl.

Perhaps the term family is a misnomer for the Sheehands, a bunch of misfits drawn together by impulse and wrenched apart by hope, desire, and murder. Fairy, the philandering father camped out in an old school bus, can't extricate himself from the burden of "women and their sticky flaws." His wife, Susan-Blair, is slowly burying herself beneath other people's possessions in her makeshift consignment store, even as she neglects her children and chats it up with the ever-present Christ of her Pentecostal upbringing. No wonder 16-year-old Hezekiah sets off down the road to Chalktown in the opening pages of the novel, carrying his disabled brother in a backpack. His encounters along the way make for a Robert Altman-like series of takes on the bizarre nature of reality in George County.

The literary landscape of the Deep South is, of course, teeming with eccentric characters. Yet Haynes's are so fleshed-out that the reader is left feeling almost crowded, like (to quote Susan-Blair) a "durn closet full a somebody else's coats. Coats put there by people who went on to someplace else, some other thing." The author is no less gifted at conveying a sense of place. She uses the colorful brushstrokes of a painter--which she also happens to be--to imbue this story with a dark, sultry, and unmistakably Southern feel. The result is a captivating, consuming read. --S. Ketchum

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