Sunday, May 13, 2007

Nudist Guy and Yankee Gal

Author: Allen Parker
POS: Authors Ink Books
Price: $10.99 (current sale price, reg. $13.00)
ISBN 09722385-1-4

Full Disclosure: Allen is a member of Absolute Write forums, as am I. We've had a number of conversations via AW and email going back a couple of years now. He's got a great sense of humor and a wonderful attitude about life and writing which comes through in his contributions to the various threads on the boards. I count Allen as one of my online friends.

About a year ago he sent me a copy of his book A Mouse Among Us. I had the occasion to sit in a hospital emergency waiting room for several hours one day, and used that time to finish reading through the book there, heedless of the occasional glare that came my way when I laughed out loud at a passage. A Mouse Among us is Allen's second book featuring the nudist, Chester. I have not had the opportunity to read the first book in the series, A Nudist Among Us which introduces Chester and his immediate family to an unsuspecting world. A Mouse Among Us was full of Chester's family and childhood reminiscences, along with humorous insight into a unique culture that includes Baptists, hillbillies, and nudity. Chester is a Southerner - but I can't help but feel that he's not entirely representative of the citizenry south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The subject of this review is Allen's third book about Chester, the Nudist Guy, and his family. This book, like A Mouse Among Us, and I assume A Nudist Among Us, as well, is a collection of short stories, slices of life, set in present day Virginia.

In the introduction to his book, Allen assures us that while there's a "small piece of all of us" in Chester, he's a completely fictional character. I'll take Allen at his word, but he's created a complex and fully realized character in Chester, so I can understand how some folk might wonder about the autobiographical feel to the writing.

Moving on - the stories in the book remind me of half-hour sitcoms, in fact reviews of his earlier work compare Chester's experiences to "I Love Lucy", which I think may be a fair assessment. Each story reveals an idiosyncracy of the main character, there's conflict as a result of said quirk, which is eventually resolved after mis-haps and usually some embarrassment on somebody's behalf, and it's not always Chester. There's a definite slapstick feel to the stories centered around Mountain Mist moonshine's effect on judgement, to say nothing of the stories that have fireworks in them.

Because, like in the typical sitcom, there isn't necessarily a linear flow from story to story, Nudist Guy and Yankee Gal is a challenging book to read all at one sitting. The break in continuity is a bit distracting if you try to take it all in one go. After reading the first two stories back to back, I took breaks between the rest of them to clear the mental palate before reading on.

As in sitcoms, sometimes the story is about Chester's efforts to keep a situation from collapsing in utter ruin. Chester usually contributes to further chaos with each attempt to fix the problem, as in the stories "The Chicken's Little Revenge" which centers around the annual church picnic, or "The Fourth of July" which is about a nudist celebration of our nation's birthday, complete with fireworks. Other times it's about the importunities life (or his wife) thrusts upon him and his sometimes futile attempts to retain a modicum of dignity, as in "The Gym", "Doctor's Visit" and "The Baptistry". The "Civil War Family Reunion" is a variation of the 'fish out of water' premise, where the Southern Chester manages to create turmoil at his Yankee wife's family reunion.

Aside from the occasional perplexing use of a word, the book was fairly well copy-edited, I didn't run across a lot of typos or punctuation errors, things that always throw me out of a story. I'm not well acquainted with small press books, yet, so I don't know what one should expect in general regarding other editorial input. Allen's voice is that of a homey, folksy, storyteller regaling his audience with another doozy of a yarn with all the exaggerations and occasional meanderings typical of those tales. Sometimes that translates to the written word better than other times. As a result of that propensity, it seems to me, there were passages that could have been cut or tightened and others that, I felt, needed a bit more exposition and this, I believe, is where a good editor comes in.

All told, this is a warm-hearted and funny book that gives a glimpse into a different way of life than I'm familar with, being a generic protestant Yankee who keeps fully clothed when not in the shower. I enjoyed reading it and hope many others will as well.


A note about "rating" - a number of reviewers give ratings to the books they review. I haven't settled on whether or not I want to do that or how I'll construct my rating criteria. So for now, the absence of a rating is no indication of whether or not I liked the book.


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