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  Short Story Collection Review    

 

The Half-Mammals of Dixie
by George Singleton
Algonquin, 2002
Hardcover, $22.95 (287pp)
ISBN: 1-56512-354-9
 
 

Not that many years ago I was convinced Buck Henry was the funniest and perhaps the most meaningful writer around. And before that, it was Terry Southern who captured my funny-bone for all it was worth. Now comes George Singleton, a singular fabulous wordsmith with a knack for the absurd. 

I thought his first book was terrific, but in his second volume of his short stories he has proven himself a deeper and even more solid twist-sculptor of the ridiculous. In the shortest piece in the book, “Richard Petty Accepts National Book Award,” Singleton ends with a wonderful belly-laugh. 

An artist who views the world through polka-dotted shades of pink and purple, Singleton experiences a kind-of kaleidoscope vision of the world which he translates to readers in his inimitable way. “I wasn’t old enough to know that my father couldn’t have obtained a long-lost letter from famed lovers Heloise and Peter Abelard, and since European history wasn’t part of my third-grade curriculum, I really felt no remorse in bringing the handwritten document -- on lined and hole-punched Blue Horse filler paper -- announcing its value, and reading it to the class on Friday show-and-tell.” Thus begins his story “Show-and-Tell” originally published in The Atlantic Monthly. It begins this volume of short stories that illustrate the enormous talent of this one-of-a-kind writer. 

The author of “These People Are Us,” a collection of prize-winning stories published by River City Publishing of Montgomery and to be published in paperback soon by Harcourt, Singleton’s quirky characters and his unusual voice resonate with a vibration of strange reality. 

His world is as real as the lead of his story “Fossils,” originally published in Book magazine: “It’s probably not true that the entire morning-newspaper delivery fleet was made up of KKK members driving country roads in the triangular desolation between Columbia, Greenville, and Augusta in 1970.” He builds on the sentence with a year of social and political unrest, how it affected the main character, and it moved through the seventh-grade class as well as the boy’s family, boomeranging back to the boy himself. 

Who are the tourists? And who are the animals in the zoo? George Singleton makes you wonder, placing the mirror at just the right spot to view happenings in a curving, swerving, rippling delight of detail, like those carnival mirrors that make our shapes change with each movement. His “How to Collect Fishing Lures,” originally published in The Raleigh News & Observer, is reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” in its clever use of repetition, yet much lighter in attitude. Still, like O’Brien, it resonates with a lasting quality. 

And the title story, “The Half-Mammals of Dixie,” originally in Harper’s, gives the motivational speech the Singleton treatment, and Drew Gaston’s pick-up moves are as original as the plot itself while Mooney Gray, the speaker, keeps up his yelp, moving toward his final sales-pitch zinger with great confidence. 

All told, George Singleton’s work adds up to an original force, a powerhouse of fun, and a laugh in practically every paragraph.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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