Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
Overview from www.bn.com: What do a trigger-happy bootlegger with pancreatic cancer, an alcoholic helicopter pilot who is afraid to fly, and a dead guy with his feet in a camp stove have in common? What are the similarities between a fire department that cannot put out fires, a policeman who has a historic cabin fall on him from out of the sky, and an entire family dedicated to a variety of deceased authors? Where can you find a war hero named Termite with a long knife stuck in his liver, a cook named Hoghead who makes the world’s worst coffee, and a supervisor named Pillsbury who nearly gets hung by his employees? Sequoyah, Georgia is the answer to all three questions. They arise from the relationship between A. J. Longstreet and his best friend since childhood, Eugene Purdue. After a parting of ways due to Eugene’s inability to accept the constraints of adulthood, he reenters A.J.’s life with terminal cancer and the dilemma of executing a mercy killing when the time arrives. Take this gripping journey to Sequoyah, Georgia and witness A.J.’s battle with mortality, euthanasia, and his adventure back to the past and people who made him what he is – and helps him make the decision that will alter his life forever.
What a character? This expression could definitely be used to describe most of the characters in this book. They are some of the craziest people who I have yet to see in fiction. Just read the above descriptions and you will see what I am talking about- though somehow I missed the dead guy with his feet in the camp stove. And the above descriptions didn’t even mention the dogs, who are perhaps among the strangest characters of them all. There is also the town of Sequoyah which the author presents as a character too. I couldn’t help but wonder if this town was real or merely fictional. It seems like it could be though.
My brother lives in this area now so I was very curious to see what life might be like- his town is even mentioned once in this book. One of the first things that the author wants you to know is how important initials are in the south, which was news to me.
“Arthur John became initialized early in life. Initialization is a Southern rite of passage akin to the Hebrew practice of circumcision, but it is sometimes less painful and does not always occur on the seventh day.” p. 13
When I first started thumbing through my nook after opening this book, I read something on one of the first pages about Scripture quotations which made me think that it was a Christian book. As I got further into it I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t since most of the Bible-believing characters are not portrayed in a positive light. It does however suggest that the society which A.J. and Eugene live in is one where the Christian worldview generally prevails. I have another quote to illustrate this and the great humor that is contained in this book- one of its best attributes in my opinion.
“‘You’re sure you were at Eugene’s place?’ A.J. asked. ‘Maybe you went up the wrong mountain.’ A.J. thought it was unlikely, but so was the Big Bang, and it had certainly received its share of the press.” p. 23
A.J. and Eugene are best friends and polar opposites at the same time so I guess it was inevitable that they should have a falling out at some point in the story. But Eugene’s illness brings them back together though at first A.J. isn’t entirely sure that Eugene hasn’t made the whole thing up. Seeing Eugene deteriorate however slowly changes his perspective on nearly everything.
I can’t say that I loved this one. It is a good read, very entertaining if you can get past some of Eugene’s language and other offensive content, but it just wasn’t great.
I have to say that my favorite parts, besides A.J.’s jokes, were the children named after literary authors (I am a writer after all) and the dogs, the dogs were hilarious. I loved how the weird old lady’s dog had a front porch land on top of it and kill it. It’s not that I like seeing dogs get killed but the idea that it died from a front porch landing on it is crazy and I love the way A.J. finds a way to appease the old lady who insists that he bury the dog next to her late husband, which is incidentally illegal in their town. I won’t tell you how he does it, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
That brings me to the only thing I don’t really like about A.J. and that is that he often seems to have trouble telling the truth. The author doesn’t say it but I got the impression that in most of the instances mentioned in the book, he believes it is the best way to save someone’s feelings. In many of those cases, I don’t agree with him. When you live in a small town, lying about what actually happened is likely to get you a bad reputation when the lie catches up with you, but A.J. seems to escape detection which seems unrealistic to me. It seems this novel doesn’t expect to be taken too seriously and that seems to be a good thing. Eugene’s looming death makes the storyline serious enough, even if Eugene himself doesn’t seem to take it seriously either.
So, in short, if you’re looking for a good but short and entertaining read, this story might be right up your alley. Be advised however that there is quite a bit of language as well as some other content that might be offensive to someone who has conservative sensibilities. Happy reading!