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Will the next governor of the great state of Alabama please grow up?

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Wonderdog

By Inman Majors

Thomas Dunne Books/

St. Martin's Press, 292 pp., $23.95

Devaney ("Dev") Degraw is that favorite of American fiction and film: the man-child -- a 33-year-old going on 18, with the mind and mouth of a world-class smart aleck. You know the type, and in Inman Majors' new novel, Wonderdog, you don't have far to go to find him. According to Dev (page one, sentence one): "Like everyone else in the world I am a lawyer. And like everyone else in the world I'd rather do just about anything else than practice law." So Dev doesn't.

He does, however, have an office in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, his excuse to escape the confines of his squalid apartment, shed his suit once he reaches work, and nap through most any morning's hangover. Sheila, Dev's secretary (and more), doesn't mind. Having served as secretary (and more?) for Dev's father, the current, Democratic governor of Alabama, Sheila's more than willing to keep clueless clients from Dev's door and the Bloody Mary's mixed. On the subject of Dev's questionable conduct, she's mute. Polly, on the same subject, wasn't. Polly is Dev's ex-wife, and she's happy to have got the house, custody of Katie (the couple's 5-year-old daughter), and a younger blond boyfriend named Clark McClatchey, a cigar-smoking, former college cheerleader who votes (no hard feelings) Republican.

Not voting Republican is Shea Bateman, and it isn't because she won't: She can't. She's Governor Degraw's inane press secretary and queen bee to a staff that includes brother/sister tag team Hooper and Dee-Dee Higginbothan and the biggest drone of all, Gibson Smith. She's also a walking, talking tease whenever Dev's in Montgomery (which is often), but when a night in the sack doesn't happen (which is often), he's got porn to keep him warm. For added company, Dev has any number of buddies: slightly superannuated bar flies capable of drinking any U of A undergraduate under the table and, in the case of one, capable of swallowing a stick of butter on a measly $20 bet.

It's enough to worry any father and especially these three: a governor-father who may run for reelection against a squirrely upstart (played by Josh Wade); a TV father (played by Hollywood ex-stuntman Chad Kingston, star of a once-popular show, filmed in Mobile, called Bayou Dog -- story lines ripped from Lassie, Gentle Ben, or Flipper -- and co-starring Dev [!] as Kingston's son); and a substitute father, "former janitor in the state capitol, former sergeant at arms for Speaker of the House Degraw, current driver, confidant, and primary policy maker in the state" (played by Sam Shade).

Nobody, in fact, is happy with Dev. Dev, he'd prefer to think, is not unhappy. He's got his mother, the first Mrs. Degraw (exiled to a trailer, scotch in one hand, a cigarette in the other, semi-senile). He's got his bright daughter Katie (on weekends). And he may even get his hands on his daughter's kindergarten teacher, Miss Marcum (if only Dev would stop -- he knows it -- with the lame bar-room come-ons).

One question: Can Dev survive, as he sees it, the battle of his id, ego, and superego? Translation: Can Dev for once grow up, do right by his old man, run for governor, end this talk of a state lottery, and rid Alabama of Josh Wade and a casino-crazed landowner named Skip Terry? Yes, no surprise, but it takes a series of prank phone calls ("juvenile exercises in perversity," says the fashion-slash-style writer for the Birmingham News), 18 holes of putt-putt golf, an all-night, high-stakes game of craps, a self-imposed detox program (termed by Dev "debloat-ification"), a kidnapping at gunpoint, an assassination attempt, a dog attack, and a case of pure luck/dumb luck.

But until Wonderdog's climactic scene, expect the unexpected: unstoppered sarcasm laced with real feeling from the mind and mouth of Devaney Degraw, a wise guy whose catalog of complaints runs just this side of stream-of-consciousness (punctuation optional) in a funny, full-tilt second novel from the author of the underrecognized Swimming in Sky. •

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