The hilarious adventures of an iconoclast
By MARY JANE PARK
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000
THE TOTAL VIEW OF TAFTLY, by Scott Morris (Hill Street Press, $18.95)
The press release that accompanies this first novel by Scott Morris describes the author as perturbed with the world, having burned up the wee hours, felt-tip pens and legal pads to construct the world of Taftly Harper.
"I am not a spider," the release quotes Morris as saying. "Those who claim to have homes on webs deserve what they get."
Taftly Harper, the lead character in Morris' book, is no less an iconoclast. At the outset, he is considerably overweight. The smile of a svelte beauty on the cover of a running magazine inspires him to begin a jogging regimen to take off pounds and, he hopes, to find love and romance.
Taftly slims down, but his dream girl eludes him for almost longer than he can bear. When one finally does materialize, the accompanying baggage threatens to collapse them both. The bloom off that rose, he continues to search for love and meaning in life. Pursuing those goals lands him in situations that are sometimes hilarious, sometimes troubling, sometimes both.
Scott Morris' dialogue is rich, often vulgar and extremely funny. The Total View of Taftly Harper is delightful. Let's hope Scott Morris is restocked with office supplies, staying up late most nights, scribbling more tales.
MY JULIET,by John Ed Bradley (Doubleday, $23.95)
It's hard to go wrong with any story set in New Orleans. John Ed Bradley pairs the city's rich terrain with the splendidly wicked Juliet Beauvais, who is spoiled and evil and scheming, and whose charms Sonny Lamott cannot resist, no matter how vicious she gets.
Figuratively speaking, Juliet stomped old Sonny's heart flat some 15 years ago. Now, she sets out to do it again, having cut short a questionable acting career in California to come back to New Orleans to tend to her dying mother. There is not a shred of kindness in Juliet; she wants to claim the family mansion. Her mother, it turns out, is nowhere near entering the pearly gates.
The bitter, brilliant Juliet turns to Sonny, seducing him toward abetting her in a remarkably evil plan. Bradley is so enticing in his storytelling that you begin to sympathize with Sonny's desire for Juliet, even though you know nothing good can come of the liaison. You know in your bones that My Juliet is a train wreck about to happen, but you cannot avert your eyes.
NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH: THE YEAR'S BEST, 2000, edited by Shannon Ravenel, Preface by Ellen Douglas. (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $14.95)
Put this 15th anniversary volume on your nightstand or coffee table to savor its contents at will. Shannon Ravenel continues her tradition of harvesting quality stories by Southern writers in American magazines, from the Oxford American to the New Yorker.
Ellen Douglas, in her preface to this newest volume, quotes Flannery O'Connor: "I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, "Well, them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do.' "
That's an apt description of the short works of these writers, familiar names such as Allan Gurganus, Clyde Edgerton and Robert Olen Butler, plus others less well-known and just as talented. Their stories are as frames to snapshots, capturing moments that lend context to our lives.
Mary Jane Park is a Times assistant newsfeatures editor.
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