Madness is Catching

Madness is Catching

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Stateville is one of the strangest towns in the South. Home to State University, which makes the dubious claim to be a€œthe finest public university in the Deep South, a€ it is an island of slightly liberal values in the Southern sea of blue-collar and military tradition. And caught between middle-class America and the sharecropper-cum-Klansman past are the educated unemployables who pass as Southern bohemia: artists who can create only when the moonlight is in the magnolias and the utilities have been cut off, writers who struggle to pen modern novels but keep coming back to the War (the only war, it would seem down South), revolutionaries who pose as Marxes and Lenins of reaction but simply cannot persuade the South to rise again, poets who spread chaos and disorder, and angry dishwashers who curse the gods for denying them the right to become movie stars. Their rudderless lives, and how they are changed forever (not necessarily for the better), are the subject of Madness is Catching, a picaresque a€œcomedy of idlenessa€ that presents classic Southern vices in a new and universal light. Tom Spaulding is one of State Universitya€™s most illustrious dropouts, having earned nearly two hundred credit hoursa€”almost entirely in electivesa€”and been expelled for refusing to declare a major in anything other than a€œdistressed Southern gentleman.a€ At thirty years old, he has never held a full-time job, and it is with the greatest reluctance that he holds a part-time sinecure. He prefers to be known as an artist, although the last time he produced any art was during a€œthe Starving Time, a€ when a parental check failed to arrive. After all, to quote Spaulding when on a full stomach, a€œDoing is not as significant as being.a€ Tom Jenkins graduated from State University again and again, but so far it hasna€™t done him much financial good. He spends his days writing free-verse epics completely unrelated to his near-Ph.D. in polar history (he would have been the first student at a Southern university to write a dissertation on early efforts to cross Antarctica via snowmobile), as well as propaganda tracts encouraging Southerners to rise up and peacefully and democratically overthrow the Yankee oppressors. To supplement his predictably meager income from poetry and propaganda, Jenkins runs a flea-market stall where he sells books recovered from a library dumpster. With the fine clothing, furniture, and surprising luxuries he also finds in dumpsters and thrift shops, Jenkins is able to ape his supposed planter ancestors, a uniquely Southern way of life. Tom Rothman spends his days waiting tables at a truck stop, a great fall from his upper-middle-class youth, when he came to Stateville planning to enroll at the university. Now he provides service with a sneer, grumbling at his customers under his breath, and grumbling loudly and profanely to his friends about the endless ways in which life has ill-used him. But there remains a kernel of seemingly hopeless ambition that Rothman cannot forever ignore. Reginald Oa€™Bryan, a former carnival barker now on work-related disability, is distinguished among his associates for his unparalleled and cynical indolence. a€œTherea€™s much to be said against work, a€ he tells a receptive Spaulding. a€œIta€™s certainly a destroyer of initiative.a€ Oa€™Bryan becomes an elder statesman of sloth and a beacon of depravity to his younger friends. A one-man Devila€™s workshop, the only question is whether Oa€™Bryan will be punished or rewarded by the Southern powersa€”and Powersa€”that be. Through one adventure, free meal, disaster, and embarrassment after another, this growing band of Southerners fails to learn any lessons at all, unless it is that persistence can be a great waste of time. From the hallowed a€œmock-Tudor-mock-Gothica€ halls of State University to the inside of a clean and well-lit dumpster, to the offensively uncharitable Megathrift charity store, the lost SouMichael Stephens ... So one day he had an odious domestic beer with the proprietor of the shoe-repair shop down the street, which was also in a state of ... All the books are still there, in addition to unnumbered tons ofshoe repair equipment.

Title:Madness is Catching
Author:Michael Stephens
Publisher:Xlibris Corporation - 2011-07-18


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