How in the world did I miss this when it originally came out in 2015? I see in the archives I read his collection of short fiction, Dirty Ones, and I remember enjoying it immensely. No matter. Parade is as sharply observed and pointedly absurd as that book, but the long form of a novel allows Graves to really dig in and create some very layered and wholly believable characters he puts through the wringer in a number of ways.
Reggie Lauderdale and Elmer Mott are cousins, but their temperments are entirely unrelated. Reggie is a conflicted, rigid, gay, church-going hypochondriac, and Elmer is a straight, somewhat dissolute bum who falls in love with unattainable women he can’t quite get over. Together, they burn down the aforementioned church, win the lottery, move into a relative’s ritzy Florida (of course it’s Florida) mansion next door to a former televangelist, and start a religion that seems to be based on hedonism and aphorisms, not to mention glitzy parties.
Rather than rely on lengthy expositon, Graves wisely chooses to tell their story in short hits–vignettes of events or splashes of dialogue that illuminate or illustrate a point, then move on. This approach is totally in character as neither Reggie nor Elmer dwell anywhere but the moment. They may return to that moment again and again to the point of obsession, but they don’t think long about something before thinking about something else. While this sounds distracting, Graves fashions all these moments into a whole that works splendidly, alternating viewpoints in sort an ADD ballet.
Even the religion Reggie founds expresses itself in short bursts. Instead of any overtly religious title, like The Word or The Way, it’s called The Cookbook, and its verses are numbered recipes. Some of these are simple, others are more complicated, but all are good, nondemoninational advice, such as:
Stop lying. Lies are hideouts.
If you fouled up, caused a fender bender, come clean. If you gossiped
unkindly, tell those involved. If you piddled on the toilet seat, admit it.
When you have secrets stashed away? They will only press on your heart.
And don’t believe in little lies either. It’s silly. What’s the point?
Remember, if you are honest, you are FREE.
Reggie lives by these homilies, and when he comes out, his metamorphosis is striking. He even stops wearing clothes, confining his fashion choices to briefs, high heels, and sometimes a cape. This is a figurative and literal coming out, but it’s more of a purpose than Reggie has had before. Elmer also finds a purpose, even though he comes to it in an effort to win yet another woman who doesn’t really respond him at first.
What I loved most about this book, however, was Reggie and Elmer’s journey and how it transforms them yet retains their personalities. They’re truly marvelous characters in Graves’s shock-pop world, highly stylized yet still very earthy. Parade is a wonderfully engaging book that has many surprises around the bend, leading up to a nicely satisfying ending. Highly recommended.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler