Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book by Its Cover

Neither the cover nor the title fully prepared me for Roger Pinckney's novel The Mullet Manifesto. Shame on me; I usually catch on quicker to wordplay. The cover shows Che Guevara holding aloft a fish--a mullet, naturally. Tucked inside, though, is an entertaining coming-of-age story of Little Rip and his friends Yancey and Grayson, spending time along the South Carolina coast, fishing, hunting, camping, and generally getting in and out of trouble.

Parts of the novel were originally published in Sporting Classics Magazine, for which Pickney serves as senior editor, and in Gray's Sporting Journal.  He manages to weave them seamlessly into the novel, without the appearance of fragments.

The book opens as Rip's family listens to the preaching from outside the First Church of the Sanctified Brethren, unsurprised when the deacons come outside to take up the collection from the white folks listening outside.  Even though the narrator young Rip gradually reveals the side to himself that eventually leads him to study literature and pursue writing, he and his friends seem more out of place in school than among the locals, particularly those who inhabit the fishing camps.

The boys have a comfortable relationship with Cuffey, who works with Rip's Pappy in his shrimping business, and they move easily into Gullah (or Geechee) talk, which doesn't serve them well when they must appear before a local judge after some of their local shenanigans.

Through the story, the specific details of the life outdoors are realistic enough to get a nod from those who know duck hunting and fishing well, without overpowering less knowledgable readers. In fact, I felt as if I had been plopped right down into the country where the boys roam. Pinkney's characterization of the main characters and the others with whom they interact is just as specific--and consistent.

Pinckney keeps his characters distinct and real, moving them just close enough to the edge of incredible without going too far. In the meantime, he gives a glimpse into the boys' future--when Grayson, from a staunch teetotaling Baptist family, will have problems with drinking, and when Rip, against stereotype, will delve deeper into the study of writing and literature. By the time he's ready to write, Rip will certainly have stocked up on enough colorful life experiences to fuel his passion.

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