The story of the Mustians that Price initiated in A Long and Happy Life is also the focus in A Generous Man, his second novel. The cast of characters is not identical, but enough of them overlap that readers of the first novel will have a sense of identity with the main characters in the second.
The action of A Generous Man takes place nine years before the action of A Long and Happy Life. Wesley Beavers is not a part of the narrative because Rosacoke, now only eleven years old, has not yet met him. Milo, married and a father in A Long and Happy Life, is a fifteen-year-old boy in A Generous Man.
The book revolves around an unlikely event that imposes a light, sometimes hilarious tone upon a story that deals with matters of enduring importance with universal meaning. As the story opens, Milo Mustian, fifteen, has just lost his virginity to Lois Provo—a girl who, significantly, works with the snake show at the Warren County fair. Milo, waking the next morning, finds that the family dog, Phillip, is sick. In typical southern fashion, the whole family must go with Phillip to the veterinarian, a drunkard who quickly misdiagnoses Phillip’s ailment as rabies, although Rato, the retarded son, later discovers it is only worms.
His dire diagnosis does not cause the doctor to confine or destroy the dog. Rather, he provides a muzzle, and Phillip goes off to the fair with the family. Rato takes Phillip’s muzzle off, and before long, the dog gets into a fight with the eighteen-foot python, Death, that Lois’s father gave to her pregnant, unmarried mother as a parting gift before he deserted her years before.
Rato, the python named Death, and Phillip all disappear into the woods. Realizing that they might have a hydrophobic python on their hands, the townsmen form a posse to save the town from impending disaster—their real motive, however, is to bring a little excitement into their flat lives. The men in the posse quickly become drunk and comradely. Price’s symbol, of course, is completely outrageous, his basic premise patently absurd. Yet that does not matter; it is clear that he is carefully constructing an allegory whose wit and good nature entice readers.
Sheriff Rooster Pomeroy leads the posse, leaving his wife, Kate, to her own devices. Kate seeks sexual fulfillment wherever she can find it; her husband is impotent. As the posse scours the woods, Milo, now one of its more intoxicated members, stumbles from the woods into the Pomeroy house, where the eager Kate whisks him into her bed. Their pillow talk includes Kate’s reminiscence about her first sexual encounter with, of all people, Milo’s cousin, the very cousin who had left Lois’s mother pregnant and in possession of Death, the eighteen-foot python.
Milo is not to have complete satisfaction with Kate. The doorbell rings, and the terrified Milo is out the window, clutching his clothing in his hands. He goes back into the woods and finds the python. He wrestles with Death and is on the verge of defeat when Sheriff Pomeroy shoots and kills (defeats) Death, enabling Milo to escape. When Milo next meets Lois, he is eager for another tussle in bed, but Lois rejects him, accusing him of being uncaring and insensitive. Milo, having bungled their first encounter through his inexperience, asks for and receives another chance. He has now learned to give as well as to take; he is both generous and a man.
On the surface, this novel tells the story of Milo Mustian and his search for the snake Death, his retarded brother Rato Mustian, and Phillip, the family’s pet dog—all of whom are lost in the woods. The hunt, however, merely provides a vehicle for a greater search, the one Milo makes for his own manhood.
The novel opens simply, with Milo recovering from a night of debauchery at the Warren County fair. His evening included a sexual encounter with Lois...
(The entire section contains 1630 words.)
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