The Congregation of the Dead

Max Childers, Author
Max Childers, Author Gibbs Smith Publishers $21.95 (282p) ISBN 978-0-941711-32-6
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As he did in Things Undone and Alpha Omega, Childers plumbs the fecund world of Southern grotesquery in his third novel, a comic and sympathetic look at an unsuccessful writer yearning for acceptance. Walter Loomis, ""never-to-be-tenured assistant professor of English,"" gets the surprise of his life when he inherits nearly a million dollars from his long-absent father, Edgar, an ex-CIA hand and entrepreneur. The money breaks Walter out of a self-perpetuating cycle of unhappy academia and prompts his return to Helmsville, N.C., where Edgar has left behind Walter's previously unknown half-brother, Ricky, and a sprawling estate. Just when Walter is beginning to settle in, however, he discovers that his father is not as absent as he seems; he has left behind a diary that begins to haunt Walter. Edgar clearly lived with a vigor lacking in Walter. Worse, Walter learns, his father understood this as soon as he read Walter's own fiction. The wild Ricky causes problems too, as does Ricky's girlfriend, Star, who beds multiple generations of Loomises. Childers is best in the satirical mode (a giddy look at the horrors of teaching a creative writing class at an undistinguished Midwestern college is particularly amusing). The dramatic episodes, however, particularly the revelations of Edgar's diary and the clumsy self-evaluation they provoke in Walter, are more functional than moving. Edgar's judgment of his son's writing applies equally to Childer's here: ""I must say that [he] has some wit, although his talent is ordinary."" (May)
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