“Austin and Emily: Sometimes Love Is Blind…and Deaf…and Dumb”
Author: Frank Turner Hollon
Publisher: MacAdam/ Cage
Price: $20.00 (Paper)
Frank Turner Hollon, an attorney in Baldwin County, Alabama, has been a steady producer of dark, painful novels, usually involving betrayal and often death. With books such as “The Point of Fracture” and “Blood and Circumstance” he generated a loyal readership.
After a while, I left that group, thinking Hollon was repeating himself, writing too fast and too thin.
But this book, “Austin and Emily,” was a delight to read. His noir fans may not love it but some new readers may very well. It is a politically incorrect love story, a road trip, a farce. As you read along, don’t bother to think about how likely all this might be—just go with it.
The joke begins: a fat man walks into a strip club. Austin McAdoo is “Six feet four, three hundred forty-seven pounds, not an ounce of muscle. His pants were specially made. He wasn’t particularly friendly, and was born with a small sense of humor, although he was a huge fan of The Three Stooges.” Austin McAdoo is a sales rep for a canned ham company in Tampa.
Emily Dooley, 23, is a stripper in a Tampa club, in great physical shape, cool and professional, if a little bemused.
“Why would a man want to sit there and just stare at my privates?” she asks herself.
She knows how to increase her tips with flirty eye contact and faux friendliness, and for this “fat guys were usually good.”
Emily sits down next to Austin to play him, “an obvious target.” Then, nearly instantly, the two fall utterly in love and walk out the door together, she still naked from the waist up. They drive to her apartment where she picks up her two cats, Glenn and Ulysses, and packs one suitcase with clothes, the other with $8,000 in “one, five, and ten dollar bills, bound by rubber bands.”
During the brief visit Austin meets Emily’s roommate, Cremora. Yes, it is all quite unlikely.
After quitting his job, Austin drives them to Birmingham where Emily meets Austin’s mom. Her first utterance on seeing her odd son with a woman is: “Austin, you better call the police and turn yourself in immediately. Kidnapping is a felony.” To Emily: “Honey, he didn’t mean any harm. He’s just confused.”
And then they are off on the road trip, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, to visit his dad’s grave, then the real Las Vegas and then to Hollywood where they plan to be married on Julia Roberts’ star on the Boulevard, but they can never find it.
All along this journey the cat Ulysses takes every opportunity to bite Austin on the finger or, more often, on his ankle, while Glenn revels in urinating into Austin’s open suitcase, onto his shirts, or “proudly, in Austin McAdoo’s spacious right shoe.”
The mock-epic, cross- country journey is arduous, of course, with one catastrophe after another, and many roadside attractions. Austin and Emily see the world’s two largest chickens, nearly fall into the Grand Canyon and pick up along the way a crazed preacher-con man named Kenneth Mint. Mint is an escapee from a Flannery O’Connor story who wears a coat made from his grandmother’s hair and in his own hair keeps ants for pets. He feeds them crumbs.
Kenneth describes himself thusly: “I am a man of the lord, a traveling preacher, and I’m over ninety-five percent goodness. The other five percent consists of bad cholesterol and a pornography temptation, but both are in check. I don’t eat red meat.”
Wherever they go, Austin, with great difficulty, has to get in and out of his compact car, a comic scene every time as they move from motel to motel. Since the Vladimir Nabokov novel “Lolita,” the motel has been the nexus of American lust. But the 23-year-old Emily and the 29-year-old Austin, both, oddly enough, virgins, are innocent right up to their marriage on the Hollywood star of Ann B. Davis, the maid on “The Brady Bunch.”
Some readers may be tempted to see profundity in this novel: follow your bliss; take a chance, that kind of thing. I wouldn’t.