Sunday, March 15, 2015

Politically Incorrect and Hilarious

It seems like some politician or celebrity is always apologizing these days for having “misspoken” about someone or something. The apologies usually are along the lines of, “I’m sorry you were offended by…” as opposed to, “I was a stupid doofus and deserve to be put on an ice floe and shoved out to sea for having said…”

Today, I’m going to write about a book that might possibly be considered offensive by some uptight folks – mostly Free Will Southern Baptists – in today’s climate. Certainly, some of the reviews on Good Reads did seem awfully prissy. But, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Clyde Edgerton is NOT a stupid doofus. Far from it. He’s a treasure and does NOT deserve to get anywhere near an ice floe. So, all you grim and scowling “Gotcha’ Squads” should go look somewhere else because I have no intention of saying, “I’m sorry you were offended by…”

Edgerton’s very first novel, RANEY, written in 1985 is, simply, hilarious. It is also, less simply, very wise.

Then, too, it has the best jacket blurb I’ve ever read. From Roy Blount, Jr.: “A funny, deft, heartening book. If I were single, I’d marry it.” Me, too. I not only laughed out loud, I kept following my husband around the house yelling, “You gotta’ hear this. Lemme read this to you.”

The book details the engagement and marriage of Raney Bell and Charles Shepherd. Raney and her family worship at the Bethel Free Will Baptist Church where folks know what’s right and what’s just plain wrong. Her daddy owns the Hope Road General Store. The Bells are small-town, conservative folks who don’t drink demon alcohol or curse or look at dirty magazines or socialize with African-Americans. Raney attended Listre Community College and, as the book opens, is newly engaged to Charles Shepherd, the assistant librarian at the Community College.

Charles’ family is from big-city Atlanta. His father’s a doctor. His mama’s a vegetarian. They’re Episcopalian and liberals and involved in
all kinds of activist projects. They drink! What’s more, Charles wants his best friend (who’s off in law school) to be his Best Man. The friend is African-American.

The meeting of the two families is just what you’d imagine. They are baffled by each other, struggle to find common ground and to make sense of the other family’s strange beliefs and mysterious ways.

The wedding night is a disaster because Charles wants her to “do things” that shock her and that she won’t even consider. Once they’re back from their honeymoon, he’s bent out of shape because her mother comes over whenever she feels like it – even when they’re not there – and makes herself at home. (Well, she’s family, Charles!) Raney discovers more: he doesn’t like fried okra! He doesn’t want to look at the body laid out in the coffin at a funeral! She agrees to go to counseling with him but is horrified that she’s expected to talk about their sexual relationship!

Eventually, with the help of a little wine, she changes a few of her ideas but, then the first baby is on the way and there’s a whole new set of problems. Will the baby be christened in the Episcopal Church? Will it be raised in the Free Will Baptist Church?

While the book is extremely funny, it is also charming, endearing and serious. The characters are real, not caricatures. What Edgerton tells us is, first, that a marriage is of two families, not just two people. And, second, that loving partners (and families) must find a way to understand each other, to compromise and to make accommodations.

Edgerton, who teaches at UNC-Wilmington, has said that he decided to become a writer in 1978 after hearing Eudora Welty read a short story on public television. When RANEY came out in 1985, he was teaching at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, a Baptist school. The powers-that-be at the school were not amused and soon Edgerton was out of a job. One of his subsequent novels, KILLER-DILLER, appears to be a thinly-disguised portrait of Campbell. (Sometimes, the pen IS mightier than the administration!)

Nine more novels have followed RANEY (see and are worthy of your attention. As the Los Angeles Times said, “Clyde Edgerton’s ear is so good, it can make your hair stand on end.” I personally hope (dare I say, hope and pray?) for many more novels from him.


  1. This is an author I've missed but because of you I have to read! Thanks. I'll let you know what I think!

  2. I have loved Edgerton since I read The Floatplane Notebooks in the '80s. I have not read Raney, but now I know I must. Thanks!

  3. I have loved Edgerton since I read The Floatplane Notebooks in the '80s. I have not read Raney, but now I know I must. Thanks!