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The Shelf: Man Martin
Man Martin’s second novel proves his first was no fluke. Martin won the 2008 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel with Days of the Endless Corvette. That debut was so solid, a sophomore slump seemed almost inevitable. But Paradise Dogs (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), set in pre-Disney Central Florida, holds its own—a satirical cross between Carl Hiaasen’s riotous rants about overdevelopment and the delusional swagger of John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces. Martin’s boozy, bumbling hero, Adam Newman, is a real estate investor caught in a zany series of mistaken identities, swept ever deeper into a suspicious land deal. Adam is a strangely lovable character, with a head that “looked like a beach ball someone had partially inflated before giving up.” He is determined to win back his beloved ex-wife, Evelyn, and recapture the newly wedded bliss of his days running a wiener stand called Paradise Dogs. Among countless obstacles is Adam’s clingy young fiancee, Lily, one beautifully drawn character among many. “She smiled like a mother softening the news that a child’s favorite pet had died by promising Sloppy Joes for dinner. Won’t that be nice?” Man (as in Emanuel) teaches English at DeKalb’s Arabia Mountain High School. Growing up in Florida and Georgia, his affection for the region is obvious in every shimmering detail: “A heron waited like a question mark in the reeds.” Fine writing and slapstick comedy can be a prickly pairing, but Martin makes it look effortless.
Mary Kay Andrews is a reliable old friend to her readers. Friendships among women are her bread and butter, and nobody serves them up better. In Summer Rental, three thirty-something friends who grew up in Savannah decamp from the drama at their various homes (downsizings, doomed relationships, the usual) to spend August at a rambling beach house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A stranger on the run from an abusive husband injects a little melodrama, and a mysterious landlord adds some sex appeal.
Summer in the South (Ballantine Books)
Longtime Atlantan Cathy Holton, now resettled in Chattanooga, set her new novel in the fictional town of Woodburn, Tennessee. “The house was very stately and well cared for, and yet there was a certain chill in the air, Ava noticed, an uneasy sensation that old houses sometimes convey, of ancient tragedy and loss.” Ava, rebounding from a disastrous affair with her boss, is spending the summer at her old friend Will’s house so she can work on her novel. Quickly immersed in small-town life, she stumbles across a decades-old mystery that not everyone wants solved.
Bogmeadow’s Wish (Mercer University Press)
Terry Kay’s latest is a real departure for the revered Athens author. Set mostly a continent away from his beloved Georgia, Bogmeadow’s Wish is an ethereal, unexpected novel, drenched in Irish folklore—right down to a leprechaun and a flying unicorn. Inspired by a 1995 trip to Ireland, Kay tells the story of Cooper Coghlan, who travels to the Emerald Isle with the cremains of his grandfather, compelled to fill his last, cryptic request: “I want you to take me back to Ireland. Let my ashes blow in the wind. You’ll know the place when you come to it. I’ll be there, telling you.” The journey is as lush and enchanting as the Irish countryside.