The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
I received a free ebook copy from Barnes & Noble several years ago as one of their Free Fridays selections.
From the summary, this book sounded bizarre-- perhaps a little too bizarre. After a few pages, however, the novel reveals itself for the set-down-and-stay-a-spell piece of southern literary fiction that it is. Atkins follows the piercing, scathing, touching tradition of southern writers such as Mark Twain and Michael Malone, a compliment that I do not give lightly.
Atkins takes tragedy and the absurdity of everyday life and reveals more about each through the foil of the other. A.J. and Eugene and their small town of family, friends, and foes struggle through every challenge that life can throw at them: job loss, adultery, addiction, death of family, and finally a terminal illness. Circumstances may be tragic and futile, but Atkins will not allow his characters or his readers to sink under them. There is always hope to be found. And, thanks to Atkin's brilliant prose and incorporation of the ridiculous, there is a lot to laugh at, too.
I never expected to laugh out loud through a novel about a man dying of cancer, but I did. The loosely-connected yarns are the contemporary descendent of Jim Blaine's story about his grandfather's ram. For everyone who has ever been a member of a slow-moving, deep-breathing, tight-knit community, and for everyone who wishes that they were, this book will be a delight.