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The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God
A blithe and redemptive seriocomic love story filled with country music, the ghosts of Halloween, and an ironic brand of down-home religion.
Newly divorced and feeling the pain of separation from his family, Hud Smith channels his regret into writing country-western songs, contemplating life on the lam with his 8-year-old daughter, and searching cryptic postcards for news of his teenage son who has run off with The Daughters of God, an alternative Gospel-punk band of growing fame. Then he finds himself inching toward reconciliation with his ex, tossing his whole talent for misery into question as they head off in a borrowed school bus, hoping so very tentatively to bring the entire family together again.
In this endearing misadventure that threatens to turn out right in spite of it all, Schaffert writes a thin line between tragedy and hilarity, turning wry humor and a keen sense of the paradoxical onto characters who deserve all the tender care he gives them.
Achy-breaky dysfunction drives a messy, funny family drama in this smalltown Nebraska tale, told in a winning faux-na�ve style. Divorced and down-and-out in Bonnevilla, Hud, a school-bus driver and popular local amateur balladeer, misses his eight-year-old daughter, Nina, and his ex-wife, Tuesday--a grade school art teacher who was his high school sweetheart--though he's still very much in their lives. Tuesday, for her part, can't seem to break her emotional dependence on the oddly reliable but damaged Hud. Dating isn't going too well for either of them (despite Tuesday's very long-burning torch for widowed Ozzie Yates, who repairs stained-glassed windows for area churches). Tuesday and Hud's 17-year-old son, Gatling, has joined a Jesus-centric band and is touring parts unknown. Tuesday's father, Red, owns the Rivoli Sky-Vue drive-in (recently featured in Film Comment, a sly aside notes); film, along with music, plays a wonderful incidental role throughout. The book opens with the off-camera execution of Robbie Schrock, who murdered his young sons following a divorce; Hud, in an effective echo of the loss of Gatling, may or may not be seeing visions of the boys. Deft, sweet and surprising, Schaffert's follow-up to The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters ends hopefully and features credibly incredible details throughout. (Nov. 21)
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November 20, 2005
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Excerpt from The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God by Timothy Schaffert
A nightlight near Nina's bed lit the room enough for Hud to see Nina sleeping still in a cowgirl costume, still even in boots and prairie skirt and western shirt printed with yellow roses. A straw hat hung on the bedpost. Hud tugged on Nina's skirt and she woke peacefully, too peacefully, Hud thought. "You shouldn't be sleeping next to an open window," he whispered, and Nina sat up in bed and puckered her lips for a kiss. Hud kissed her, then said, "Any creep could come along. Aren't you afraid of creeps?"
"Oh, sure," Nina said, shrugging her shoulders.
"Let's go for a drive some place," Hud said. He opened the window and lifted the torn flap of the screen.
"OK," she said, standing up in the bed, "but first, don't you like my costume? We went to a party."
"It's nice," Hud said.
"I'm Opal Lowe," she said, and Hud was touched that she dressed up like Opal Lowe, his favorite country singer. He'd taken Nina to a county fair a few weeks before to see Opal singing in the open-air auditorium. ... Nina had loved it and had hummed along as Opal Lowe sang about her man's habits, of how he had liquored her up on Wild Turkey, lit her Old Golds, made her need him like water.
... Hud jotted a note in crayon: "I'll be back with her before sunlight, before you even read this," and left it atop the rumpled covers of the bed. Nina crawled onto his back, and they slipped through the torn window screen. He imagined never returning with her, imagined his picture next to her picture on fliers sent through the mail.