Dollarapalooza

Sapp, Gregg. Dollarapalooza: or the Day Peace Broke out in Columbus. DeKalb, Illinois: Switchgrass Books, 2011.

 

“When the sun rises over Ohio, it casts the whole nation’s shadow.”

“Say what?”

“What I’m saying is that you can take the boy out of Ohio…”

“But you can’t take Ohio out of the boy. Oh, jeez, old man. That’s what you told me when I was a kid, and I didn’t believe it then.”

“And if it wasn’t try, you wouldn’t be here today.”

– Von Carp talking with Milt Carp in Dollarapalooza (218)

 

There has been a long, long tradition in literature of the wayward son returning home after experiencing life abroad (or simply away from home).  Dating back to even beyond Odysseus, this has become a common theme of American literature, from the Godfather to My Antonia.  It contrasts and works together with another big theme of American literature – the idea of mobility and, more simply, coming and going from a place. Think of a character catching a train or plain at the end of a novel or movie – destination may or may not be known.  Really, pick up any non-genre literary novel, and there is a good chance that a central plot point involves one of the main characters either coming or going home. The home is usually celebrated for its evils, virtues, or simply its folksy character. The return typically teaches the son his or her non-geographic place in the world – in that place called home.  These fictional wayward sons often become synonymous with real life geography – for example, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and Ashville, North Carolina.

This brings me to Gregg Sapp’s Dollarapalooza, a novel about a wayward son, Vonn Carp, who emerges from the pieces of a shattered life in his hometown of Columbus – more specifically, the north side of Columbus. Vonn returns to Columbus for a family funeral, and Milt (Vonn’s father) persuades him to start a family business – an improbable, locally-owned dollar store.  Continue reading

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In the Fullness of Time

Nicolosi, Vincent.  In the Fullness of Time.  New York; Fonthill Press, 2009.

 You stayed home, so you don’t know what it’s like out there, do you? Amongst all those wolves. You don’t know how they are or what we’re up against. The only thing you know is Marion. Out there, they’ll take any little thing and bend it into something it isn’t. They’ll use everything they can to destroy the President, to destroy his good name. – Fictionalized Florence Kling Harding in In the Fullness of Time as she burns the late President’s public and private papers (271).

In 1920, Warren G. Harding won one of the most lopsided elections in U. S. Presidential history over fellow Ohioan James A. Cox.  Harding was Marion, Ohio.  His career before politics was as the editor of the Marion Star.  What is remembered from his electioneering is the “front porch” campaign, with speeches delivered from his home in All-American Marion, Ohio.  By 1923, the President has suddenly died and the Teapot Dome scandal, amongst others, has brought shame up on the White House.  Today, Harding’s name frequently appears on historians lists of worst presidencies.

Vincent Nicolosi’s In the Fullness of Time is about Marion at its peak and the town after everything falls apart.  It becomes Marion against the world for those left behind (at least for our narrator).  Told through the memories of Tristan Hamilton, a well-to-do busybody who sees the world through Marion colored glasses.  Or, at least, that is how he portrays himself. Continue reading

The Green Bay Tree

Bromfield, Louis. The Green Bay Tree.  Wooster, Ohio; The Wooster Book Company, 2001 (Originally published in 1924).

Every time I pass the Malabar Farm sign on I-71 near Mansfield I think, “One day I will visit there.”  Instead, I finally got around to reading a work of the farm’s one-time operator, Louis Bromfield. Though known as an early conservationist and Ohio writer who knew many celebrities today, Bromfield was a literary star as a young man in the 1920s.  His novel Early Autumn won a Pulitzer Prize in 1927.  He continued to write, branching more into non-fiction, up until his death in 1958.  He established the before-mentioned Malabar Farm in 1939.

Over the last decade-or-so, The Wooster Book Company has reprinted a selection of Bromfield’s work, including many of his early novels and later Malabar Farm-related writings.   Many of these titles appear to have been long out of print, so now is a time to learn the Bromfield way.

The Green Bay Tree is the authors first published novel (1924).  For a first work, its scope aims towards the grand, encompassing the industrial revolution in the Midwest, a World War in France, and, to a lesser extent, truly knowing oneself.  This  all told through a reclusive widow, Julia Shane, and her two daughters, Irene and Lily.  Plot-wise, the novel can be over-simplified as the daughters choose (for completely different reasons) to not get married: Lily for the idea of love and Irene due to piety.  The Shane’s refuse to play by the Town’s rules.  Bromfield’s focus is on the female characters, with the few males left incomplete. Continue reading

Knockemstiff

Pollock, Donald Ray. Knockemstiff.  New York; Doubleday, 2008.

Knockemstiff is a really ray of sunshine.  Pollock’s collection of inter-related short stories of desperate people living desperate lives is somehow able to relate a more depressing human condition with each tale.  From the first story, “Real Life,” which involves a father brutally beating a man in front of his son, then beating up his wife, each story becomes a little more hopeless.

I think the following line from “I Start Over” kind of sums it up:

I’m beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it. (163) Continue reading