Handling Sin
Michael Malone
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Buy *Handling Sin* online Handling Sin Michael Malone
Washington Square Press
656 pages
Copyright 1986
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Reviewers can't seem to help themselves from comparing Handling Sin to John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces. An intelligent, phenomenally funny book, Handling Sin takes its readers on a rollicking modern Southern odyssey, following the reluctant adventures of insurance salesman Raleigh Whittier Hayes. Author Michael Malone, head writer for the ABC soap opera One Life to Live, exhibits incredible mastery of the novel form, navigating the story's maze of surprise twists with such boisterous alacrity that readers have very little chance of losing their way at any time from start to finish.

Curled Up With a Good BookRaleigh Hayes considers himself to be the only rational person, other than his Aunt Victoria, in the whole motley crew of the extended Hayes family. The Hayeses seem to have a genetic propensity for living life to its reckless fullest, courting diabetes (and inevitable loss of limbs), stroke (which left first his grandfather and then an uncle physically infantilized), and heart disease (another uncle died while fielding a fly ball in a semi-professional baseball game in high summer) with every choice they make. Raleigh himself holds to a sensible diet, jogs regularly to stay fit, and insures himself to the gills with an eye toward life's inevitable outcome. His relatives steadfastly deny his offers of insurance, refusing to jinx themselves by acknowledging death's certainty.

When he opens a fortune cookie with the unpleasant message that "You will go completely to pieces by the end of the month," he has no idea of what the fates have in store for him in that short span of time. Events quickly conspire to turn his carefully sane life topsy-turvy, beginning with his ailing elderly father's "escape" from the local hospital in the company of a young black girl. Earley Hayes, a defrocked minister who left Raleigh and Raleigh's mother years ago to marry a parishioner he'd gotten pregnant, leaves a message full of mystifying directives for his eldest son. Raleigh is to find Jubal Rogers, give this mystery man five thousand dollars and ask him to come to New Orleans. He should find his wastrel half-brother Gates and bring him, too. He must bring Grandma Tiny's trunk and the family bible, buy a cabin (where Earley wants to be buried) from longstanding family enemy Pierce Jimson, steal the bust of feud-originator PeeWee Jimson from the town library, and, oh yes, bring a gun.

The flummoxed Raleigh at first has no inclination to follow his father's incredible orders, but Aunt Victoria briskly gets him moving on what will be a very long and very strange road to New Orleans. Accompanied (or kidnapped) by his childhood friend Mingo Sheffield, Raleigh buys, borrows and steals the requested items and sets off to find his father. Travelling in increasingly unique vehicles, and meeting and acquiring quirky new road companions (including a very pregnant teenager, a master criminal, and a jazz man), Raleigh struggles to maintain his precious equanimity in a world he can no longer predict. While at home his wife appears to have become a left-wing political radical with an astonishing following, Raleigh too begins to undergo a transformation that will leave him a better and happier man at the end of his quest.

Even the walk-ons in Handling Sin provide moments of high hilarity. Michael Malone shows a genius for characterization too seldom seen in modern literature. This novel is a bubbly delight that catches the reader with perfectly rendered moments of touching sadness nestled in between the laughs. Malone's deft hand makes Handling Sin one of the most perfect comic novels in recent years.

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