Mon February 19, 2007
Carry My Bones
Carry My Bones is an impressive debut novel, and very much an Alabama book. Yoder worked for a number of Alabama newspapers, including the Anniston Star, was an assistant to Rick Bragg in Appalachicola, and in his off hours wrote Carry My Bones.
By Don Noble
Carry My Bones is an impressive debut novel, and very much an Alabama book. After a childhood in central Tennessee, Yoder attended Auburn University, majoring first in business and, finding it dry, switching to journalism. Yoder worked for a number of Alabama newspapers, including the Anniston Star, was an assistant to Rick Bragg in Appalachicola, and in his off hours wrote Carry My Bones.
Yoder, never an English major, was also not a voracious reader, but the book in his life of most importance was Huckleberry Finn, and it shows.
In Bones we have three characters, all odd, on a picaresque journey, having one encounter/adventure after the next. Gideon Banks is a Southern man who is a little embarrassed because he cannot repair his own car. (Manhood is sometimes measured oddly here. Napoleon did not know how to shoe a horse, but he conquered most of Europe.) Gid, as he is called, has taken up pottery and sculpture in clay and is rather good at that.
Gid has an adopted son, Merit, named after the discount brand cigarettes. Merit is about nineteen, a high school dropout, and almost never speaks. He was traumatized as a child by seeing both his parents die. He will be all right; he's just quiet.
The third character, I am tempted to say musketeer, is seventy-four-year-old John Frederick White, an eccentric African American who lives in a trailer in the woods and grows turnips in the churchyard to give to the ladies in the congregation. John Frederick and Merit are buddies, like Huck and Jim.
The plot gets rolling when Gid discovers that his unpleasant wife is also unfaithful and he attempts to kill her lover. The three go on the lam, on foot, and travel north from the Auburn-Opelika area to Lake Martin, where they try to squat in an empty summer home, and finally to Mountain Brook. Like Huck and Jim floating on the river, the trio have scrapes, adventures, meet odd folk along the way, join others' lives briefly, and then move on.
All this takes place in the autumn of 2003, and there are two leitmotifs that help to hold the parts together. At Auburn, Cadillac Williams is the star running back. Yoder loved the name. And why not? Yoder is slightly mystified by Alabamians' obsession with football, and all through their travels, his trio measures time in game days.
Also simultaneously occurring is the run-up to the referendum on Gov. Riley's tax reform bill. Yoder, like many a bright lad, wonders why poor people vote against having their taxes reduced. He more or less concludes in this novel that people vote against anything containing the word "taxes" without pausing to notice the "details."
This novel is then a study of three odd characters, on the move, interacting with other odd characters. It is also a gentle exploration of Alabama culture insofar as we think of football and taxes as subjects of cultural interest.
Like all picaresque novels, however, the challenge for Yoder is how to end it. After all, Huck and Jim cannot go on down the Mississippi River forever. In Carry My Bones the three cannot walk forever, sleeping in the colder and colder woods night after night. For one thing, this is very bad for John Frederick, who is, remember, seventy-four.
But end it must, and it does, with a possibly important love affair for Merit, with Haley, a Mountain Brook girl, punishment of some kind for Gid, and nature taking its course with John Frederick.
Yoder has good control of his bizarre creations, moves the episodes along nicely, and has a touch of the poet. Only twenty-seven, he is now writer-in-residence in Fairhope and working on a novel about Mexicans in Alabama, in the Collinsville/Sand Mountain area. This new element in Southern culture might well yield some fresh fictional art.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.