Franklin Daugherty’s wry Isle of Joy pits boosters against historic preservationists in Mobile. Excellent characterization that brings Lee’s Smith’s sardonic touch to mind, though Smith never manages to create a character as thick as McCorquodale, who admits, “Interior decorating was not leading to my full individuation”. It was one of my favorite books last year- one that situated me squarely within the social status seeking of the Alabama leisured set.
Publishers Weekly offered the following summary review:
Sexy, iconoclastic McCorquodale de la Rouchefoucauld (the natives say ""Roshfookle""), the niece of a poor woman obsessed with uncovering proof of high-born lineage, is convinced she is ordained to be the savior of postmodernism. When H. Sloane Wolfe, a sexually predatory, socially prominent sexagenarian banking tycoon, falls in lust with her, she determines to parlay his attentions into her own avant-garde sidewalk cafe, which she hopes will be the cornerstone for establishing Mobile as the New World Mecca of postmodernism. Her plans run afoul of a group of nouveau-riche young Rotarian types who hatch a scheme to level the historic district and build a supermall and a ""Six Flags Over Jesus"" theme park. As the new South meets the old South, it's not exactly a case of the barbarians versus the cultured, since just about everyone who has something to say is more pedantic than intelligent. But Daugherty liberally salts his tale with subplots and themes involving greed, petty social ambition, artistic freedom, gay rights and Bible Belt puritanism. Happily, earnest social commentary never gets in the way of vigorous burlesque
The Isle of Joy is a remote southward island discovered in the 1870’s by TC DeLeon, a Jewish novelist and Mardi Gras enthusiast. King Felix III lived on the Isle but undertook an annual voyage to see his Maubilian subjects for three days of “misrule” and set sail at midnight of Shrove Tuesday to return. Much of the plot weaves through the local folklore and self-made mythologizing of the Sunbelt types and "suburban polyps"- the same suburban polyps whose penchant for extensive commuting and strip-mall shopping causes the "proliferation of parking lots" bemoaned by Daughtery's protagonist.
The real conflict emerges over schemes for downtown revitalization that somehow demand massive expenditures involving the Ten-Tom Waterway. The Tuscaloosa Eastern Bypass- with its plan to build six bridges through a public park dedicated to Hurricane Creek- was not far from my mind as I read this book.
Daugherty makes it clear that "convenience is the code-word", a far cry from the traditionalism espoused by lovers of local history and sustainable farms. The "terrible nightmares of elevated expressways” and “supermall schemes” run far too close to home to keep me from squirming a bit. Like the motto of the Hamburger Harbor Improvement Association (as if any organization with such a name should be allowed the dignity of even the most spurious motto)- “Improve through Improvement”- the thinking of local officials tends to be more directed at fast economic growth (i.e. Progress) than sustainable, long-term development.
It takes McCorquodale, a hipster debutante intent on radical chic, to rattle the cages of ill-conceived progressive development. When she's not busy debating the "intellectual underpinnings of Mardi Gras”, McCorquodale is offering outlandish solutions to the problem of a glut in growth policy. Take, for example, the possible appointment of a "Public necromancer” to predict which scheme which scheme on city plan would come to pass.
Daugherty’s section of the postmodernist “Radical Chic” play that went unremarked until Orville Tidwood of the Baptist megachurch put it in the media as a “moral threat” reminds me of Soapy Jones’ popular showing of “Turn Me On, Dammit” and the scandal which packed the Bama Theatre. Obviously, no one billed the film as a family event. Yet scores of Tuscaloosa citizens found themselves absolutely shaw-ked and a-PAUL-ed to hear of a film with a female protagonist that presumed her right to sexual pleasure paralleled that of her male-gendered classmates. It was a sad day for girls in Tuscaloosa, especially those young girls still struggling to discover and reclaim their sexuality from a world that damns them to being boy-toys rather than individuals in their own rights.