John Moody, Jr., dies at age eleven in a car accident with his mother, June Lee Moody Bales, driving. Though she had promised her second husband, Faison Bales, to rename her son Faison Bales, Jr., the gravestone she places on the boy’s grave has his birth name on it. Seeing this, Faison starts a fight which leads to a separation and sets the background for this novel’s exploration of one family’s dealings with death and broken love.
Readers of Edgerton’s comic novels, such as WALKING ACROSS EGYPT (1987) and KILLER DILLER (1991), may be surprised by the seriousness of much of IN MEMORY OF JUNIOR. While his sense of humor has not deserted Edgerton, most of his characters—who are also his eighteen different first-person narrators—are in no mood for jokes. Faison’s brother, Tate, a divorced college professor, is working on his relationship with his sulky, teenaged son, Morgan. Meanwhile, Faison and Tate’s father and stepmother are dying, and in the absence of a will, an inheritance battle looms.
Into this scene comes Faison and Tate’s Uncle Grove, returning to Summerlin, North Carolina to arrange his own funeral and death. Believing that, “You’re history longer than you’re fact,” Grove McCord has decided to determine when and where he’ll be buried. Armed with a pistol and a lifetime supply of stories, Grove is the most comically drawn character in this novel, and may be the only one actually enjoying life. A fishing trip provides Faison and Tate the chance to air some old grievances, and Morgan with a chance to learn from Grove’s less sober approach to life. Also on this trip, the brothers learn why their mother left when they were young, and about their uncle’s disturbingly violent response.
Edgerton’s touch is light and generous. His characters do not get what they want, but they do learn to put aside a few resentments.