July Read of the Month: “Parade of Horribles,” by Rhett DeVane

Rhett DeVane

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

Once again, Rhett DeVane captures the essence of life in a small southern town in Parade of Horribles, the seventh installment in her beloved Chattahoochee series. DeVane mines the debilitating nature of fear and the need to forgive in this deeply appealing novel.

Jake Witherspoon, familiar to readers of DeVane’s earlier books, returns as a central figure. Anonymous text messages focused on Jake’s homosexuality aggravate his post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression: “Years back, one particular person had fantasized waylaying him in some alleyway and binding his feet and hands. Lashing him to a tree.” This person beat Jake until “he wished for death.” He survived, but with permanent injuries, both physical and psychological. Jake needs to talk to someone about these texts—but to whom?

His life partner Shug is dealing with his sister’s serious illness. Estranged from her brother for years, Genevieve shows up on their doorstep hoping to cure Jake and Shug from their homosexuality. Jake realizes that she is “a taker masquerading as a giver.” He ponders why family members can “tromp all over you and you were still connected; you’d plant roses by their gravestones.”

Hattie Davis Lewis is Jake’s lifelong friend, the only one back in school days who didn’t view him as “Satan with a swish.” But these days Hattie is consumed by the first signs of teenage rebellion in her daughter Sarah Chuntian. Especially after Sarah’s research project leads her into danger. Hattie got white-hot, “you-ain’t-messing-with-my-people mad. Oh-hell-no mad” over a “twisted man who took advantage of children.”

Even after Hattie knows her daughter is safe, she can’t let the worry go: “It was a Parade of Horribles. In reverse. Rewound and replayed with different, awful endings.” Her pal Jake warns her that “[f]ear can lock you up inside yourself,” something he knows all too well. She knows he is right: Fear “had stalled life, circled it with invisible barricades. At the same time, it robbed her and her family, and others, of experiences.”

Because everyone else is dealing with problems of their own, Jake keeps the threatening text messages secret. They fester inside until he is nearly suicidal.

Town busybody Elvina Huston senses something is wrong with him but can’t ferret out what it is. When others suggest she’s too nosy, she fires back that the “Bible says we should love our neighbors as ourselves,” which she notes would be difficult if you don’t know “what they’re up to.”

Nature sustains Jake’s spirits as he remembers “the importance of looking up, and looking down. Seeing the clouds scud across an unflawed cerulean autumn sky, then the tiny white blooms of some tenacious ditch weed—those small pieces of perfection went a long way to cover the imperfections of human.”

The solace that pets can bring us shines as a theme in this novel. The birth of a litter of kittens and a stray dog end isolation for several characters. Jake notes that “[t]he universe sent dogs to cushion the world” against grief, loneliness, and disappointment.

Jake and Hattie learn that so many of the things we stew over never come to pass, and all that time wasted on fear and worry can rob us of joy in the present.

No DeVane novel would be complete without references to mouth-watering food. Delectable dishes are front and center not only at every town festival, of which there are plenty, but also when someone dies and a friend will trot “out her best, comforting dish, preferably one with enough melted cheddar on top to clog up every artery in a person’s body, twice.”

DeVane’s easy-to-read prose is full of southern expressions and personalities that make her characters feel like the folks next door.

Other books in this series include The Madhatter’s Guide to Chocolate, Up the Devil’s Belly, Mama’s Comfort Food, Cathead Crazy, Secondhand Sister, and The Suicide Supper Club, which won first place for fiction in 2014 from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. A Tallahassee resident who was raised in Chattahoochee, DeVane also pens children’s books.

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  1. Phyllis Jean Moore says

    Some of these themes really resonate with me. Thanks for the review.

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