Welcome to Higby

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Mark Dunn’s second comic novel, Welcome to Higby, several flawed but well-meaning individuals in the small town of Higby, Mississippi, contend with romantic entanglements, practical problems, and crises of faith. Carmen Valentine, whose guardian angel gives her sassy advice and shopping tips, has set her sights on handsome Tie Gibbons. Carmen’s friend Stewie Kipp plans to introduce Tie and Carmen, not knowing that his own fiancé Marci Luck has wearied of his Christian fundamentalism and also has eyes for Tie. Carmen’s next-door neighbor Nancy Leigh is searching for her fun-loving sister Talitha, whose recent kidnapping by a tiny religious cult has brought her good times to an abrupt halt. Recently widowed Reverend Oren Cullen struggles to cope with his teenaged son’s grief and his own loneliness, convinced that God no longer hears his prayers.

These and many other intertwining stories unfold in brief chapters, each preceded by a Bible verse that applies either literally or whimsically to the chapter’s events. Reverend Cullen receives an intriguing letter from Desiree Parka, proprietor of Higby’s Far East House of Massage, in a chapter entitled “Read this, I pray thee.” Nancy Leigh insists on washing a shirt her boyfriend has worn for days in “And he shall put off his garments, and put on other garments.”

Dunn’s characters are not paragons of Christian morality, but they approach life with an ultimately heartwarming innocence, sincerity, and generosity of spirit. Like an irreverent version of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, Welcome to Higby is an optimistic view of small-town life, where good-hearted people do their best and find what they are looking for—or something just as good.