Childress plays off cliches in bawdy comic novel

“Georgia Bottoms,” (Little, Brown and Co., $24.99), by Mark Childress

A bawdy comic novel steeped in Deep South stereotypes, “Georgia Bottoms” covers a lot of familiar territory: philandering preachers, mixed-race romance, a befuddled old racist white woman (she’s called “Little Mama”) and a ne’er-do-well brother (he’s called “Brother”).

There are also the pillars of the community — the bank president, the publisher, the doctor and the sheriff — whose lives are built on sand. Each gets a night of the week for creative sport in bed with Georgia.

Georgia Bottoms is our heroine, and the novel lives mostly in her marvelously goodhearted but teeming and scheming mind. She lives in a rural Alabama town called Six Points, where the once prosperous family name was Butts but got changed to Bottoms as finances went South, so to speak.

This is a well-traveled Southern literary landscape drawn for comic effect. Childress, whose previous novels include “One Mississippi” and “Crazy in Alabama,” knows his way around. Scenes and whole sections are skillfully crafted, memorable and amusing, but some can be tedious, or just not all that funny. The preparations for Georgia’s famous annual luncheon for the ladies of the community, for example, spares no detail on decor and menu, then it turns out to be spectacularly ill-timed — it’s Sept. 11, 2001 — and few show up.

But Georgia, good-looking and devious, is a compelling character who keeps the narrative alive with her survival skills. And her moral compass, which swings wildly. She cannot help herself when she first takes stock of the new Baptist preacher in town, Brent Colgate: “Shiny blond movie-star hair combed up off his forehead in an old-fashioned Cary Grant wave. ... An honest to God dimple in his chin, a face chiseled like the men in those old-fashioned ads for Arrow shirts.”

He has just gotten out of his beat-up blue Chrysler, and you know this will not end well.

Or maybe Georgia can figure a way out.

Childress is figuring his way out, too. There is a tricky line to negotiate in a book of farce. Some readers may find it too light and insubstantial. Others may feel, as Georgia fits her oddball family into her Honda for a final drive away from Six Points, that the trip was well worth it.

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Online:

http://www.crazyinalabama.com/

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