Grady is a he-feechie, promoted around the Tom Sawyer atmosphere chock full of bog-side towns and muggy swamp bottoms as "the ugliest boy in the world", working with a huckster named Floyd and generally startling the frontier people of Corenwald with their ostentatious performances on the road sides outside of taverns and on main streets alike. Floyd is a charlatan, always on the prowl for his first big break into the business of being a knave with a nose set to the tune of high prices for everything from elixirs to phrenology readings. An unlikely pair, but one that makes for a light-hearted, rollicking good story.
Grady, a lonely orphan boy, has always been told that he is a feechie, a mythical river bottom creature hideous enough to scare the bravest of folks in the rural, damp communities, and that his lineage should make him button-popping proud to have been put in league with the likes of Professor Floyd. Audiences throng to see the orphan boy perform his wild man routine and money pours in...until an operation goes sour in one particular swamp village and both Grady and Floyd have to make a quick dash for it to avoid losing their own hides. Resilient, they float from one occupation to another, disrupting quiet villages with their loud announcements calling folks over to see their fate-reading performance or the infamous dancing turkey routine. Grady is on top of the world even though his feechie appeal has somewhat slacked off...but when he is told by the man he's worked with and trusted all these years, Professor Floyd, that he is not really the feechie he's cracked himself up to be, Grady must decide for himself whether to keep chasing after a fool's dream or make something of himself in the charlatan business.
This book is brimming with originality and spice. The writing is quick, concise, and peppered with make believe words that somehow seem to fit the whimsical style perfectly. (I'm thinking in particular of a fat man who is said to have "crawfished through the door".) Told from Grady's accented perspective, it shows the tenderness of emotion as well as the humor in every circumstance, letting no one factor outride another. Grady's struggle to define who he is bares itself with simple but heartfelt inner dialog: "When I thought I was a feechie, I couldn't picture myself as a villager because I wasn't civilized enough. Now that I'd turned out to be a civilizer, I couldn't picture myself a villager because I wasn't honest enough...Being who you are and holding to it-that's something I never learnt on the road with Floyd. I didn't have any idea who I was or where I come from. In my line of work, there aint no settling down and sticking around. You just keep moving, and when you find a new village, you find a new self if you need to. There aint no being yourself because there aint no real self to be."
The feel of the towns around Corenwald and the hucksters, rustlers, pickpockets and cheap actors and trick tradesmen that flicker in and out of the writing as Grady and Floyd set out to cause a stir with another Great Feechie Scare takes all the old-fashioned charm of vaudeville and mischief-makers, putting them into an entertaining story as exciting and surprising as any nickle and dime show outside the local motel. Jonathan Rogers has created a miniature Mark Twain representation of himself with this quick, clever book. A word must also be said for the deep Southern accents mastered in the writing. It is not every man who can write accents, let alone narrate with them, and allow us to come away believing we had truly had a peek into that unique world.
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FTC Disclaimer: "I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review"