cover image MISS CORPUS

MISS CORPUS

Clay McLeod Chapman, Author . Theia $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6738-7

This dizzyingly imaginative first novel by playwright and short story writer Chapman (Rest Area) is the entwined tale of two bereaved men who go on the road in search of redemption. At 19, William Colby returns to Virginia from four months at sea to discover his bride dead on the kitchen floor. In Florida, Philip Winters's teenage son is found decomposing at the bottom of a swamp. Colby had promised his wife a highway honeymoon, a drive south all the way to Florida. Winters's son had always wanted to travel north. Unaware of each other, the men embark on their personal pilgrimages, finally colliding with one another on I-95. Along the way, they come across a gallery of grotesque characters, from a little boy who has a corncob for an arm to a woman who gives bloody birth in a highway tollbooth. In a slow, simmering style that melds Southern folklore with a gothic sensibility, Chapman concocts a powerful tale that is suspenseful and moving. Much of the narrative is fragmented, related through shifting points of view. Using the road as his frame of reference, Chapman coins shocking similes: "my name lumbered out of my mouth like a dying dog—just hit by a speeding car along the highway." The book is heavy with horror—dismemberment, torture, arson and freakish car crashes abound—but Chapman's knack for storytelling and his vigorous prose establish a dramatic momentum, moving the tale to a violent, tragic crescendo. Suffused with a compassion, the novel transcends its bizarre premise and suggests that the magic of literature can make sense of life. (Feb.)