“Anybody who knows anything about Southern writing knows that Fred Chappell is our resident genius, our shining light, the one truly great writer we have among us.” —Lee Smith
Fred Chappell’s The Gaudy Place is perhaps the first novel to depict the society of the street people of the New South and their relationship to the middle class. For its wry portrayal of displacement and injustice this novel was awarded the Sir Walter Raleigh Prize.
The street-smart teenager Arkie triggers the events of the story with his ambition to rise in economic status. He proposes business deals to the prostitute Clemmie and the successful con man Oxie, a hustler who aspires to political office. When the prank of a middle-class teenager, Linn Harper, offers Oxie the surprising opportunity to gain a foothold in respectable society, an unexpected climax reveals the interdependence of all social levels in a culture too quickly changing from a rural to an urban character. Here is a small world in which quick wits and wily survival skills are necessary and admirable, even though the race is not always to the swift.
Originally published in 1973, The Gaudy Place is drily humorous, darkly ironic, fast-moving, and entertaining. Its best strength is its gallery of sharply drawn, fondly observed characters unknowingly at odds with one another.
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