Hunk City by James Wilcox
Viking 2007 199 pp.
Copyright © Steven E. Alford
Sure, Mr. Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner has his Yoknapatawpha County, what with all his stories and such, but since 1983 Mr. James Wilcox has gifted the reading public with Tula Springs, Louisiana, a cosmopolitan town populated by Catholics, Caribbeans, Yankees all the way from Massachusetts, and, heck, even Republicans. Like an insane asylum seen from the inside, Tula Springs, while not populated by the technically deranged, has its own, shall we say, internal logic.
Central to this installment in the Tula Springs saga is fifty-seven-year-old widower Burma Van Buren, née LaSteele. Everyone is always saying Burma is worth 100 million dollars, which really irritates her, considering she’s only worth 36 some-odd million, owing to her late husband, now dead, a catfish farmer who won the Pick Twelve lottery. With the proceeds he built a replica of Graceland, Graceland II (only it’s much bigger), where Burma won’t live, since it’s too far from her job as assistant manager of Redds Dollar Store.
She is advised in money matters by Mr. Harper, an accountant and “one of the worst Republicans imaginable, a young Republican,” who looks to Burma “sort of a cross between Pat Buchanan and Salma Hayek.” She is becoming slowly aware that his advice on what to do with Graceland II conceals a dastardly plot to funnel some of her money to the reprehensible Republicans.
Her attempts at controlling her own life are hampered by her decision to live with her mother, Mrs. LaSteele, who is fond of handguns and invective. Mrs. LaSteele, who looks like “what Madama Butterfly might have looked like some sixty years later, minus the suicide,” claims she has Burma’s interests at heart. She wants Burma to remarry, but “why would a man ask out someone who sounds like a can of shaving cream?”
The man Burma fervently hopes will ask her out is Mr. Pickens. Mr. Pickens had turned down Burma’s proposal six years earlier, and “then married her ex-boyfriend’s ex-wife.” Things are now rocky in the Pickens household, however, and Burma holds out hope that she might snare Mr. Pickens. She puts him up at Graceland II but his living there gives the two of them (according to Mr. Pickens), “the appearance of moral laxative.”
Matters are made more complex by the appearance of some of the employees of WaistWatch, a Christian Evangelical fitness studio, a place fans will remember from Wilcox’s 2003’s Heavenly Days. Crosses are planted, sewer pipes are broken, divorce petitions are filed and multiple lawsuits ensue, all handled by local lawyer Donna Lee Kelly, who herself is not without man problems. She “had never found anything worthy of true devotion in the male of her species until a fifth Cosmopolitan.”
Burma is briefly distracted by Mr. Schine, a dadgum Yankee, who may or may not have designs on Burma’s money. Who cares, really, since he smells “like bread rising while a juicy yard hen baked tender and crisp with a sprinkling of paprika.” After Burma notes that his belly is “smooth as an ice sculpture on a Carnival cruise,” she makes her desires known, but is ultimately unsuccessful, since he’s married to either a man or a woman up in Massachusetts.
At 199 pages, this novel is way too slight for my tastes, as I would have loved to spend more time looking for leaf blower silencers at Southern Auto, or being flossed by Edsell, Tula Springs’ professional flosser. Maybe I’ll return to the first novel in this brilliantly amusing series, Modern Baptists. If you’ve got a lick of sense in that skull of yours, you will, too.