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Written by Timothy Sexton
Lucius has an old man’s name in an 11-year-old body. He is the teller of this tale and is telling it from the future 61-year old version of that young boy. A trip to Memphis ostensibly for the purpose of attending a funeral becomes instead an adventurous coming of age tale that transforms the young kid into something a bit more mature. Of course, when that adventure horse racing and brothels, what other choice is there but to come out more mature on the other side. What is maturity, really? Lucius learns the cold hard truth about that question: maturity is acceptance of the reality of a constantly shifting foundation of moral relativity. Even so, he clings as hard as he can to maintaining two universal moral truths: you don’t lie unless there’s no other possible choice and don’t make promises you don’t intended to keep.
Boon Hogganbeck. The kind of guy that pretty much everyone he talks to eventually is forced to wonder whether it was at all possible that he did well in school. Fortunately, Boon is kind of a grown-up analogue to young Lucius in terms of being a character who represents innocence and wonder. Not that Boon is entirely innocent, it must be noted; he’s also got something of a wild streak in him that manifests itself in the relentless pursuit of mostly good-natured fun.
The innocence of Boon and Lucius comes into stark contrast at the racetrack where he smoothly relieves them of possession of their automobile even though they desperately need it. The trait that allows McCaslin to enjoy great success as a shady character is the patina of Southern Gentlemen that obscures the much rougher and unpleasant surface below. Nevertheless, Ned is essential to the education of Lucius Priest because he is completely capable of divining the difference between what is the right thing to and what is the wrong thing to do; he just doesn’t always choose the former. At the same, his gentlemanly side allows him to appreciate the finer things in life and as a result he is moved to obstruct Lucius from the coarseness of the world.
Uncle Parsham Hood
The adventure which Lucius enjoys in Memphis alongside Boon is also accompanied by a visit to Uncle Parsham Hood. Parsham Hood is a farmer not reticent about doling out kind of folksy wisdom common to farmer types. He also shines from a patina of gentlemanly goodness. Unlike Ned, however, his courtly exterior isn’t a gloss, but the polished surface of a goodness that goes all the way through his interior.
The deputy sheriff has no courtly patina and for the most part is no gentlemen except in one respect. He recognizes the wisdom and gentle goodness of Parsham. Aside from that, however, Butch is perhaps the least admirable character that Lucius is introduced to. His desire for the prostitute Everbe eventually puts him into direct conflict with Boon.
That Memphis brothel which plays such a vital role in the coming of age employs a pretty young thing named Everbe whom Lucius sees as something of a damsel in distress to be saved. At the same time, Boon become the object of Everbe’s most profound emotions, but rejects the idea of having sexual relations with on the basis of destroying the purity that she seeks in his exuberant form. She is not so picky when it comes to giving in to the advances of Butch which ultimately has the effect of shattering her carefully constructed illusion of his total innocence. Nevertheless, true love does manage to overcome the serpentine trail this unlikely romantic couple must traverse on their way to the altar.
The nephew of Everbe has created a peephole into his aunt’s rooms so that kids can spy on her brothel activities for a nominal fee provided to him. Otis become the oppositional image of Lucius; where Lucius is a good at heart, Otis is halfway to becoming the kind of coarse boor who grow up to be deputy sheriffs in the South of the early 20th century. Part of the complicated morality of Ned McCaslin is demonstrated in his desire to keep Lucius away from Otis.
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