This is an exuberant, raucous, Drunkard's Walk of a book. It's the kind of book words like exuberant and raucous were coined to describe. And I loved it.
There is a huge, entertainingly flawed, and distinctly memorable cast of capital-C Characters. The story weaves all over a good portion of the southern United States. The plot veers crazily as well. This is a book you have to go into just wanting to be entertained, and willing to let the author take his own sweet time.
The main character is Raleigh Hayes, and as far as he's concerned, he's the only sane man in a family of careless, irresponsible flibbertigibbets. (I can't believe I finally got to use that word!) On the other hand, Raleigh regards himself as the paragon of normalcy. He runs his own insurance business, has a wife he loves and two daughters who are, disconcertingly, hitting adolescence, hard. He goes to the right church and belongs to the right civic clubs. He has well and carefully invested his money.
His life might have been thrown for a loop when one daughter started racing stock cars and the other aspired to be a Valley Girl, or when his wife became the very public spokeswoman for Mothers of Peace, and started to contemplate running for office.
Might have, that is, if his father, Earley, hadn't just the day before broken himself out of the hospital, withdrawn what Raleigh regards as his future inheritance from the bank, bought a new Cadillac and hit the roads with a young black woman no one had ever seen before. And left behind a laundry list of bizarre tasks (including stealing a plaster bust from the library) that needed to be done before Raleigh can bring everything to New Orleans in two weeks time and can retrieve his father and his inheritance.
On the way, he brings along the neighbour and best friend he always thought of as ineffectual, and ends up seemingly involved in finding his reprobate brother, a murder, a break-in, a jail break, drug running, conning wealthy Southern women out of fur coats and money, delivering a baby, taking down the Klan, a gunfight at an amusement park, a search for buried Confederate gold, and a duel. With swords.
Some of those things he actually did, others he was just near or accused of. I'll let you figure out which!
This book is hilarious. But what I haven't gotten across yet is how tender and heartfelt it is. About those sneaky messages about family and love and acceptance that sneak in behind the scenes. And by the end, Raleigh realizes that order doesn't necessarily bring you control, and maybe, just maybe, a little chaos is good for the soul.
I highly recommend this one. In fact, the only thing I didn't like about it was the title.