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Crazy in Alabama

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Appearances by Martin Luther King, Buddy Ebsen, and George Wallace enliven this bitterly funny novel, Crazy in Alabama, set during the summer of 1965. Parallel plots make for a madcap (and only occasionally uncomfortable) mix of violence, tragedy, and absurdity. Lucille, an aspiring actress, murders her unsupportive husband, escapes to Hollywood, and lands a role on The Beverly Hillbillies; her nephew, 12-year-old Peejoe Bullis, remains in the small town of Industry, Ala., where he and his uncle Dove, the county’s coroner and mortician, are swept up in the civil rights movement. Writing with dark humor and finely wielded detail in his fourth book, Mark Childress establishes himself as a flamboyant master of the comic grotesque. B+