#130 ~ The Front Porch ProphetDecember 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Books, Culture | 9 Comments
Tags: Alabama, book review, cancer, fiction, friendship, Georgia, Raymond L. Atkins, redemption, Southern fiction, The Front Porch Prophet
The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins
When you pick up a good novel written about the south by a Southern author, you can tell. There is just something about that area and the writers it creates that is unique, remarkable and gorgeous. Had William Faulkner, Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell not been from the south, their novels would not be remembered today. Had a writer with equal skill but who grew up outside of the south written To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel would have been condescending and the characters a mere stereotype. Atticus would have inevitably been a Yankee and Boo Radley would have been nothing more than a sideshow freak resulting from inbreeding. It took a southerner to shed light on the southern life in such an honest, warm and loving way. Atkins does just that in his debut novel.
The Front Porch Prophet tells the story of A.J. Longstreet, a man who lost his mother at birth. He was raised in Sequoya, Georgia by his father and grandmother and he became an honorable man with a loving wife and three children, all named after authors. He loved his family and his home, but was unfulfilled in his job supervising at the local mill. He was content to stay where he was until he reconciled with his life-long friend, Eugene Purdue. Eugene, who grew up in an unhappy marriage and had a seemingly never ending wild streak, learned that he had terminal cancer. He asked A.J. to come up to visit him up on his mountain to make amends and to ask him to do the unthinkable – put him out of his misery when the time came. A.J. had no intentions of killing Eugene, but he agreed to visit him regularly. The rekindled friendship brings up old memories, both good and bad. As he aids, supports, comforts and helps Eugene find the redemption he is seeking through his last days, A.J. is forced to reconsider his beliefs and look at what truly makes him feel whole and happy.
When bad things happen to Southerners, they don’t lose their sense of humor. You are never truly defeated so long as you don’t stop laughing at yourself. Atkins breathes life into this world. He writes of A.J. and Eugene’s lives with an easy sarcastic wit that is authentically Southern. A.J. and Eugene are not the only characters in Sequoya, either. The signs displayed in the window of the town’s only restaurant that is owned by a born again Christian are hilarious and ingenious. By far, my favorite feature of this novel were the snippets of the letters Eugene wrote and sent out to the people of Sequoya after his death. They appear at the beginning of each chapter, but they reflect back up the previous chapter. His letter to the town sheriff still has chuckling when I think about it. As it is, is I quickly lost count of the times I laughed out loud while reading this novel.
As much as I loved the books humor, what stays with me from The Front Porch Prophet is its message about the enduring power of friendship and forgiveness. It made me happy to be human. For all of our weaknesses, we have the ability to overcome them and make them right. This is a novel I will be reading again many times. It promises to hold something new each time I read it. This may very well be my favorite novel of 2008. I can’t recommend it enough.
Have you read this novel? I’d love to hear what you think.
To buy this novel, click here.