Monte Schulz's prose novel opens in the spring of 1929, as the 19-year-old consumptive farm boy Alvin Pendergast attends an ill-fated dance marathon he's too sickly to participate in. After a year of his life has been stolen by a sanitarium, Alvin knows he's relapsing, and dreads not only the drudgery of his family's homestead, but a return to the hospital. In this state of mind, an invitation for a late-night slice of pie is too seductive to pass up and before he knows it, Alvin crosses the Mississippi River and finds himself working for a slick con artist named Chester Burke.
Alvin is no match for Chester, who's not merely a con man, but a gangster from Chicago, following the bootleg liquor trade through the small towns of America's middle border. With Alvin in tow, Chester's insouciant disregard for life serves him well as he embarks upon a series of bank robberies and senseless murders. All summer long, Chester assumes the role of a dark angel on Judgment day, cleansing the scrolls of those whose sad fortune had drawn them across his path. Too ill to flee, too morally weak to object, Alvin resigns himself to what seems like certain doom somewhere down the road. Fortunately, Alvin finds another companion on his journey, a lonely, eccentric, and grandiloquent dwarf named Rascal, whose own infirmity binds his and the farm boy's destiny together. Drawn deeper and deeper into Chester's murderous frolic, they come across a curious assortment of characters, from small town businessmen and religious kooks to wayward girls and dance contestants, spiritualists and sideshow freaks. Caught between Chester's villainy and Alvin's own physical deterioration, the young farm boy must make a decision: stick with Chester, who would surely kill him at the slightest hint of betrayal, or muster the courage to stake his life on faith in Rascal's clever plan to save them both. Tired of being afraid, Alvin finally grasps the need not only to outwit the gangster but to find another road to travel. What he discovers about the meaning of home offers a solution to escape and freedom.
This Side of Jordan is a thoroughly American novel told in the voice of a lost generation hurtling toward the Great Depression, and evokes a long ago America of crowded Main Streets and tourist camps, miles of cornfields, rural churches, and musty parlors. It ends on the fairgrounds of a traveling wagon circus that beckons gangster, farm boy, and dwarf toward a startling resolution, and a hard-fought absolution for the two young, frightened collaborators. The narrative of this novel has the momentum of a freight train, but told in the seductive, rhythmic tradition of Southern lyricism reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote, and filled with vivid, outsized literary characters. If Jim Thompson and Carson McCullers went on a collaborative bender by kidnapping Holden Caulfield, Perry Smith, and Ignatius J. Reilly, they'd have come up with something like This Side of Jordan.
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Winner in the Fiction & Literature: General category of the "Best Books 2010" Awards sponsored by USA Book News
"Monte Schulz's novel This Side of Jordan shows that Like Father Like Son — both superb!" – Ray Bradbury
"Schulz, son of the beloved Peanuts cartoonist, proves himself to be a handy wordsmith in this literarily
ambitious novel of pre-Depression America... [T]hose who
savor authentic details of a bygone era will be rapt by Schulz’s delightful displays of staccato, wise-guy
diction ('Say, hatchet face, what’s the dope?') and his cascading sheets of period description that set the
scenes. Hand this straight-faced and multifaceted almost-satire to fans of the Southern Gothic tradition, all
the way from Flannery O’Connor to John Kennedy Toole." – Ian Chipman, Booklist
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With the Great Depression looming and about to define America's next decade, three strong-minded women related by marriage form an uneasy household in the summer of 1929. Forced by her husband Harry to uproot their two small children from Illinois and take up residence in East Texas, Marie Hennessey struggles to find a place not only within her mother-in-law's home but in a Southern town whose troubling unfamiliarities compound her marital woes and homesickness.
Maude Hennessey has little patience for Marie and her children, and even less for her pretty but petulant daughter, Rachel, who fights and flirts with a dashing pilot from New Orleans. Colliding issues of faith and sexual mores, racial proprieties and class distinctions, fuel a constant bickering through the narrow corridors of the house, all three women heedless of the love that has brought them together. Maude seems cold and distant except toward the ladies of her club; Rachel's affection for her doting aviator rises and falls capriciously; and Maude seeks to understand an absent husband, while deciding how to receive her employer's slow seduction.
As summer wears on, the conflicts among these women are exacerbated by a child murder that sends shockwaves of fear and mistrust throughout the community, particularly between the town's white residents and a black shantytown across the river. An ever-increasing sense of dread culminates in the arrival of a terrible storm whose aftermath reveals poignant and unexpected truths these three women living at a time when America was poised on the brink of economic catastrophe.
In The Last Rose of Summer, Monte Schulz has created a story about three women and their interior and exterior lives, each of whom symbolizes quintessential American notions of family, love and community. In so doing, he reminds us all of where we come from and how we got here. With an elegiac voice that evokes an era in its final bloom, and a thoughtful rendering of the public and private contentions that ruled the day. The Last Rose of Summer becomes an instant American classic.
Read the entire first chapter! Download the EXCLUSIVE 38-page PDF excerpt (246 KB).