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Handling Sin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Raleigh Hayes’s fun-loving father steals away from the hospital in a yellow convertible, traveling with a teenage black girl and all his money, he leaves his son a list of strange tasks to fulfill, promises a reunion in New Orleans, and mentions a large inheritance. First, Raleigh must gather some family relics and steal a bust from the local public library. Then, accompanied by his best friend, the fat and jolly Mingo Sheffield, a born-again and again Southern Baptist, Raleigh sets out to find his jailbird half-brother, Gates, and a mysterious black musician, Jubal Rogers.

Raleigh’s quest leads to a series of hilarious and bizarre encounters with his eccentric relatives, escaped convict Simon Weeper Berg, doped-up Hell’s Angels, a group of Catholic nuns, a Texas oilman and his wife, and several small-time mobsters. Respectable, prudent Raleigh finds himself reluctantly stealing a motorcycle, delivering a baby in a moving van, participating in a dope deal, and pretending to be a Czechoslovakian movie director, before he and his half-brother reunite with their father.

While Raleigh’s reward is not a large inheritance, he uncovers a family secret and, in the process, has become a new man.

In this immense, enormously funny book, Malone, author of DINGLEY FALLS and UNCIVIL SEASONS, displays a marvelous insight into the absurdity of our everyday lives and the comic patterns of speech of various groups, as he successfully juggles a large cast of unforgettable characters in the action-packed plot. The somewhat disappointing ending is only a minor flaw in an otherwise very satisfying and entertaining novel.