Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Cousins to the Kudzu by William Doxey (Louisiana State Univ.: $16.95; 255 pp.)

November 03, 1985|T. R. Pearson | Pearson is the author of "A Short History of a Small Place" (Linden). and

William Doxey's "Cousins to the Kudzu" is sort of "Winesburg, Ohio" south, but only sort of. What goes on in this novel primarily goes on in Oughton, Ga., about 50 miles west of Atlanta, and the bulk of the characters are either native Oughtonians or imported and adopted ones.

In the 26 relatively brief chapters of the book, Doxey tells essentially 26 different stories that are rarely actual stories at all but more often episodes or mere sketches arranged apparently by whim as much as anything else. There is no chronology to speak of, and the tales shift back and forth through time changing direction, emphasis and narrative focus.

"Cousins" commences with a chapter on the town doctor, Eugene Spalding, who for his part mostly just arrives from Atlanta, and then it proceeds on to things and people otherwise, among them an insomniac grocery clerk, a relocated Oughton-born transsexual hair dresser in a snit, a fairly sadistic dogcatcher, a faith healer with VD, two ears in a jewelry box, one decorated black war veteran turned school janitor, a half dozen or so "young men of the new generation" floating naked in inner tubes on a cow pond, a Yankee sergeant's pelt tacked to a barn door, Bobby-bob the idiot bottle collector, and Mrs. Emma Knowles gone suicidal over her heisted garbage.

If this sounds like high comedy, it surely ought to be but somehow isn't. Oughtonians don't seem to find life overly amusing, just hard and grim and complicated, every now and then unbearably so. Moreover, Doxey is quite apparently out to insist that whatever they are all in, they are all in it together and evermore touch and affect each other with what they do and what they fail to do.

We get, for instance, the story of a young prostitute brutalized and buried alive. It comes to us from several distinct perspectives, and the writing throughout is spare and effective: "They were on the back seat of his car, which they pulled out and set up in the woods. And when Reg finished she thought Julius would hop into his place. Not that she was happy for that, but they were nice. Bought her hamburgers and root beer and taught her how to skate, and it wasn't like she was losing anything by giving them a little. It was natural. But that Julius was different. Wanted her to do something else."

But primarily "Cousins to the Kudzu" is a novel that is not but barely a novel at all, and as a collection of stories, it would be at best gravely uneven. The characters appear and disappear with such rapidity that it's impossible to say just what they're up to and why, and unlike Anderson in his "Winesburg, Ohio," Doxey fails to render himself both brief and telling all at once and together. The bulk of his Oughtonians lead slight, thin, almost inconsequential lives, and the ones who tend to show up with any regularity are only pervasive in the sense that they're everywhere and nowhere too.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|