LeRoy Tucker: Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks -- A Review . . . Of Sorts
My copy of LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker's recently published book, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, arrived a couple of days ago. Let the prospective reader beware of my review! Not that I will post any spoilers. Rather, that I cannot be objective about this collection of Tuck's stories because I had a hand in the process by which the book came to be. Some readers will recall that I posted a recollection of my initial reaction upon discovering Tuck's website, Folk Liar of the Ozarks:
I have stumbled across a genius named LeRoy Tucker.I later recalled that moment in words that ended up as a blurb for Tuck's published book:
I still remember my reaction when I first read some of these stories online: "I have stumbled across a genius named LeRoy Tucker." I had been searching for information on the Ozarks and stumbled across Mr. Tucker's blog, Folk Liar of the Ozarks. When I looked more closely, I realized what an authentic treasure I'd discovered. This self-proclaimed 'folkliarist' writes with a gifted literary hand, captures the Ozark dialect that was already fading in my childhood, and has a gift for storytelling like the one ascribed to one of his more memorable minor characters, the preacher Az Bronson:This blurb appears on the 'backside' of Tuck's book. That would already be sufficient to indict me as a biased critic, unworthy of trust, but if that weren't enough, there's also this, an acknowledgement written in Tuck's own hand . . . or at least printed originally on his own computer's screen:"Ole Az can start spinnin' out another'n now. It's the beatenist thing. Most preachers has about a half a dozen sermons, an' that's all they needs. Ole Az, he jest starts talkin' . . . . Sermons jest rolls out of Ole Az like mule turds rolls down a steep hill."Like Az with his sermons, Mr. Tucker gets one story after another rolling down a slippery slope. The reader is in for a wild but enjoyable ride.
Dr. Jeffery Hodges of Seoul Korea originally from Fulton County Arkansas, voluntarily edited most of this book. By means of his innate understanding of our hills he nudged me away from some really silly mistakes encouraging me to work through without even one time causing my nasty narrow mindedness to surface, a splendid example of forbearance for which I am abundantly grateful. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 7)And if that weren't enough to prove my incapacity as critic, there's more -- a personal note, handwritten on my copy of the book, sent to me by Tuck himself:
To Jeffery HodgesI fear that I have been overpraised, for in re-reading Tuck's stories, I caught some typos that I had missed. If I were really such a good editor, I'd have caught those, too. I am thus doubly unworthy to be taken seriously as a literary critic, but just in case I've not persuaded everyone, I'll now try to give Tuck's book a boost.
Can't commence to say how much I appreciate you. You caused this book to happen.
There's a story that begins precisely halfway into the book, on page 142 in a total of 284 pages, and its title reads "A Blending -- Facts and Imaginings." In this fascinating tale, Tuck reimagines the history of how his great-great-grandparents left the eastern United States in the early 1850s and ended up in the Ozarks. Tuck assures us that he is an honest man:
I got in the habit of telling the truth. I have lived a long life. I always wanted to be an accomplished liar, to escape the disadvantages of being honest. Face it -- cheatin' and lyin' pays off, and everyone knows it. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 143)I think that we can trust such a forthright fellow, especially when he goes on to say:
But concerning those early Martins and Tuckers, I have no facts. Right here, I wish to express my gratitude to those who had the real true story and wouldn't share it. They left no record to speak of. That leaves me free; my mind is uncluttered by dreary details. And now that I have taken up lying, I can make up a story, shape it however I choose, and do it without worrying about conscience and all that. It is a wonderful feeling. My gratitude is sincere and heartfelt. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 143)Tuck is free to lie about our Ozark region, and he chooses Climax, Arkansas as the site for his outrageous lies:
Jess Martin, my maternal great-grandfather, lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead, the same Climax that I've written a lot of stories about, all just lies of course. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 142)Tuck's stories are lies blended with facts, just like his story "A Blending," but they're all the more real by virtue of his imagination. Characters like Bulldog Martin, Doc Clift, and Johnny Frog come alive in Tuck's capable hands, and the reader finds them more real than some 'real-life' people met with every day in the everyday world.
Tuck's stories will be of interest not only to those of us from the Ozarks or those of us interested in folklore, but to any reader who loves good stories and richly drawn characters, especially when story and character are leavened with humor and wit, as Tuck's invariably are. That same wit and humor extends beyond Tuck's stories to his anecdotes and, of course, his jokes, such as this one:
A stranger, lost in the hill back roads, eventually wandered into Ash Flat. Spotting an elderly man idling in front of the feed store, the stranger drove his big car alongside and said, "Old man, if you were going to Memphis, how would you go?"Tuck doesn't say what happened after that, but I doubt that either the stranger or the old man ended up in Memphis. I also wonder what ever happened to Old Man Templeton's missing cow, to which we are alerted in this absolutely true anecdote:
"Well, I don't know. Air you a-goin?" asked the old man.
"Yes, I am."
I'd jest get in there and ride with you I guess," said the old man. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 211)
Even the oldest people that I knew called him Old Man Templeton. He was deaf as a post, but he still attended every service at the Possum Trot Schoolhouse, which, like almost all schools in our hills, doubled as a church . . . . He talked in that flat, inflectionless squawk of the profoundly deaf. One Sunday evening, he asked the preacher to announce that one of his cows had strayed and to please ask the congregants to watch for the cow and to put her up if they saw her. It was an ordinary request.Tuck doesn't say what happened after that, though there must have been some consequences, perhaps much like there were the time an Ozark preacher was preaching about St. Peter and got so lost in his own sermon that he forgot himself and suddenly exclaimed, "How many Peters we got in this here congregation?" There was shocked silence among the worshipers at such a private question so openly posed. To fill in that silence, let me assure readers that no man present was missing his 'peter', but as I recall, that church was soon missing a preacher.
Once the preacher got the initial singing and praying out of the way, he opened his talk planning to progress from a few neighborly stories to warm the folks up . . . . He opened with "Brethren and sistren, I want to tell you about last Wednesday. Hit jest happened that I called on the widder Langley and her two fine daughters. Miz Langley served me the finest meal ever you --" Old Man Templeton was certain that the preacher was announcing his missing cow. "Preacher," he exclaimed, waving his cane in the air. "Tell 'em she's got one spilte tit and red hair on her belly." (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, pages 207-208)
I reckon readers can see why I like Tuck's writing, for it tells stories consonant with my own experiences growing up in the Ozarks and fills in many of the gaps in my own memories with the 'lies' that we hillmen tell each other.
For those readers who also love well-told, humorous lies, especially lies that get at the truth better than the truth itself does, I heartily recommend Tuck's book.