Off Magazine Street
Ronald Everett Capps
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Off Magazine Street

Ronald Everett Capps
MacAdam/Cage Publishing
336 pages
September 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Both Byron Burns and Bobby Long were the fair-haired boys of their home town of Eames, Alabama. As the black sheep among his high-achieving siblings, Byron prefers the low road, happily joined by Bobby in an indiscriminate feast of wine, women and song. The two men throw away their teaching careers and family attachments, inseparable on their long slide into oblivion.

By late middle age, Byron and Bobby are so besotted that they develop the behaviors of the stumbling derelicts who litter the streets of every city, little more than transients themselves, their lifestyle financed by Byron's meager possessions and Bobby's VA disability check. Living in one room of a cheap hotel in New Orleans, the men are joined by Lorraine, an obese mental patient Bobby has known in better days. Lorraine's sixteen-year old daughter also lives on the edge as well, raised by her grandmother, but now on her own.

When Lorraine dies, no one is particularly surprised. But Lorraine's death occasions a transformation of the indigent men when her daughter, Hannah, shows up on their doorstep, faced with two stumbling drunks who recite poetry and read novels to each other between binges. Out of options, Hannah chooses the lesser of two evils, hoping for a few days respite and finding an accidental life change.

Hannah is a source of intense curiosity with her nubile innocence. Formerly content in their careless waste, entertained by the literary fragments of their younger years, Byron and Bobby are ambushed by dormant urges, instincts that go beyond lechery to encouragement and guidance. Neither man is prepared to acknowledge the awakening of those long-abandoned finer selves; nor is Hannah thrilled by the middle-aged reprobates, currently the only game in town.

Seduced by Byron and Bobby's ineptitude and the treasure of knowledge the men so generously share, Hannah discovers she has a home of sorts. Including the neighborhood derelicts from "the outdoor living room," these lost men are really a motley assortment of lonely, misspent men who drift together, like Bobby and Byron, attracted to the glow of Hannah's youth.

With her two Dr. Doolittles, Hannah, as Eliza, begins an amazing adventure within the framework of family, albeit a highly unusual one. More than a tale of redemption, this novel is a lesson in compassion. Without discarding those who have slipped from the moorings of acceptable social mores, Capps challenges us to look deeper, into that vast reservoir of humanity where there is a home for all.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2004

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