cover image WELCOME TO HIGBY


Mark Dunn, . . MacAdam/Cage, $25 (339pp) ISBN 978-1-931561-17-4

Writing in the spirit of his clever debut novel, Ella Minnow Pea, in which an island's language-loving inhabitants must adapt to a shrinking alphabet, Dunn delivers another witty and intricate book. This time he uses biblical quotations to guide his narrative, which tracks the residents of Higby, Miss., during Labor Day weekend of 1993, as they search for happiness, love and salvation. The tightly interwoven story lines feature a veritable swarm of oddballs, including Stewie Kipp, a born-again Christian whose fiancée, Marci Luck, resents his attempts at piety; Talitha Leigh, a floozy who is kidnapped by an extremist vegan cult and renamed "Blithe"; and dim-witted Euless Ludlam, who finds himself on the receiving end of a huge inheritance. The Bible quotes aren't just gimmicky transitional devices, since the novel closely follows themes of redemption and salvation, albeit in a screwball manner: as one character, Carmen Valentine, notes, "My guardian angel likes to help me stretch my shopping dollar." The collision of celestial concepts and quirky mannerisms makes the book both laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly touching. At its core is the belief that "God equals love," though the characters demonstrate this in some rather strange ways. Dunn, a playwright, has a wonderful ear for dialogue; his rich and enticing prose, elegant structuring and wonderful attention to the smallest of details make this novel a delight. (Oct. 1)

Forecast:Dunn's sophomore effort may have even more popular appeal than Ella Minnow Pea , which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title, a Top Ten Book Sense Pick and the recipient of a Borders Original Voices Award.