"Why Dogs Chase Cars: Tales of a Beleaguered Boyhood" (Algonquin Books) tells the nail-biting, pants-wetting, head-turning story of how Dawes survives his childhood and navigates his way into adulthood. It's one of the stranger pieces of fiction to emerge from south of the Mason Dixon line in several years and that's saying a lot when Singleton's competition comprises folks like Barry Hannah, Padget Powell, and Stephen Sherrill. There are characters with names like Bo Bobo and Sister Bang. The elder Dawes' term of endearment for his son is "Fuzznuts."
Like nonfiction writers David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Singleton has a knack for creating a fictional family dynamic that is really quite sad and morbid and giving it a hilarious twinge. For instance, Mendal's father-son bonding activity is to dig holes in the backyard with his father. Into them they dump barrels labeled (but not filled with) toxic waste. Any other son might complain that he hasn't earned at least a camping trip or some time on the golf green, but as it turns out, the ruse works. The developers stay away and Mr. Dawes leaves his son a legacy of sorts: some land of his own.
We can't choose our families, Singleton seems to suggest here, much as dogs aren't able to reject their instincts. And so we chase after our families like dogs do their own tails. In this case, Singleton's narrator - so eager to get away at the beginning of this book - winds up following that instinct all the way back home. It's a testament to George Singleton's humor that after finishing this slap-happy little book we understand why. John Freeman
George Singleton will be reading from his debut collection of short stories, "Why Dogs Chase Cars," at Fountain Bookstore Oct. 28.
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