If the short story collections of John Cheever and Flannery O’Connor had a love child, it would be The Beasts of Belladonna. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, Gilbert Allen’s collection of fifteen linked stories explores every corner of the suburbanized foothills of South Carolina.
Belladonna—a gated community with Tuscan architectural covenants—boasts a championship golf course, compulsory three-car garages, faux cobblestone sidewalks, and a lively assortment of cats, dogs, birds, deer, goldfish, and spider monkeys. Its human inhabitants include a skeptical high-school biology teacher and his stubbornly devout Methodist wife; a 300-pound biracial woman determined to lose weight; the county’s self-appointed Pavement Imperfection Coordinator; the state’s first African American optometrist; a sociopathic TV reporter and her would-be savior (a young minister from Southern California nicknamed Jesus of Malibu); and a Guatemalan housekeeper tormented by her evangelical employer’s cat.
Although you won’t find Belladonna on any map, you might have already encountered its past, present, and future in Allen’s previous collection, The Final Days of Great American Shopping, which Ron Rash praised as “a delightful collection whose interrelated stories give the pleasure of a novel.”
And The Beasts of Belladonna is even better.
A surreal (or hyper-real!) narrative of heart, race, class, and circumstance in the old/new South’s Dark Corner where inflatable dolls stand in for missing children, local clergy don flame-resistant racing suits to compete in the Faster Pastor Challenge at the Speedway, and all kinds of unlikely human and animal passions reveal themselves in recursive yet ever-surprising configurations of brutality and redemption. What a lively menagerie of beasts and souls!
Claire Bateman, author of Coronolgy
Gilbert Allen’s perfect The Beasts of Belladonna reminds me of Winesburg, Ohio on hallucinogens. It’s Our Town in a funhouse mirror. These linked stories, though mostly comedic/satirical, at times turn toward tragedy when least expected. I loved these characters, thrown into situations they didn’t deserve. A great portrait of early twenty-first century America.
George Singleton, author of You Want More: Selected Stories
Gilbert Allen’s Belladonna is a wondrous, weedy place, blossoming with untrimmed joy and sadness. Like summer nights with their katydids and cicadas, Belladonna is euphoric with the sounds of dogs, cats, birds, children, and foolish good living. Bambi is a Weight Loss Facilitator. A preacher looks like Liberace adorned with baby fat, jewelry, and a tsunami of shiny black hair. A Weather Tootsie storms into people’s lives. What a marvelous, glorious, inspiriting book!
Samuel Pickering, Professor Emeritus, University of Connecticut
In this exciting new collection Gilbert Allen looks at our society from a special angle of wit, relish, and surprise. The stories present a world at once distorted and familiar, of marriage, family, and an inter-connected community across the generations, exposing our culture of consumption and the retail sublime as no one else has. Sentence by sentence and page by page, the stories delight and make us laugh, and through the laughter we see reflections of ourselves in the craziest and most unexpected places.
Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek