Nothing ever happens in Maggody, Arkansas, population 755. Aside from handling the occasional barroom brawl or exploding still, chief of police Arly Hanks spends her days sipping coffee and squashing flies. She returned to Maggody two years ago, licking her wounds after a bad Manhattan divorce, and she fell backward into the role of sheriff. From Hizzoner the Moron - also known as Jim Bob Buchanon, the pettily corrupt mayor - to Ruby Bee Hanks, Arly's mother and the town's foremost gossip, the people of Maggody are all crazy in their own ways, and that craziness is about to turn deadly.
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THANK YOU AUDIBLE FOR GIVING US MORE MAGGODY!
MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY is Joan Hess’s third foray into the hilarious and inexplicable universe of Maggody, Arkansas. Arly Hanks’ Maggody is one of the top five funniest locales in 20th century English-language serial literature—up there with Granny Weatherwax’s Discworld, Amelia Peabody’s Egypt, Bertie Wooster’s Totleigh Towers and Arthur Dent’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
I have 800 books in my Audible library but this is the first review I’ve written in my eleven years of Audible membership. What inspired me to put down my ear buds and start typing away? I felt compelled to respond to the one review published so far on MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY, a book written by Joan Hess in 1989 and released by Audible in August 2016.
It is a very short one-star review which reads like it was written by Maggody’s own Mrs. Jim Bob Buchanan: “If you want gratuitous swearing, disgusting sexual fantasies/details, one-dimensional characters, and convoluted story line, this is for you. If not, pass on this book”. Wow. I love, love, love Maggody. How had I missed the gratuitous swearing and disgusting sexual details?
What actually constitutes “gratuitous swearing” anyway? I needed data.
I began my research into the alleged “gratuitous swearing” in MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY by searching the body of the tome for the inclusion of the so-called "nine dirty words"—the seven identified by George Carlin plus the additional two that got Lenny Bruce arrested: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits, ass and balls. And it is a fact that of these nine taboo words, seven of them do appear in MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY. Does that mean the author is guilty of “gratuitous swearing”? You decide.
This book contains:
•• 14 inclusions of “shit” or its variants—i.e. “holy shit”, “shit hit the fan”, “shit, I forgot”
•• 8 inclusions of “piss” or its variants—i.e. “looking pissed”, “pissed off”, “pot to piss in”
•• 15 inclusions of “fuck”—generally used as an adjective, never as a sexual activity. Never in reference to someone’s mother.
•• 1 “cunt” (but no other references to female genitalia). BTW: the guy who says “cunt” gets murdered, though not for that reason.
•• 3 “tits”; also, in a related search, 8 “breasts” and 1 “nipples”
•• 20 variants on “ass”, generally used as a term of insult (eg “tight-ass”, “wise-ass”, “asshole”)
•• 1 “balls” used as a euphemism for testicles
And since I was on a roll, I kept on going in my search for gratuitous swearing. The book also includes:
•• 69 “damn”s
•• 5 “slut”s
•• 8 references to the “Kwik – Screw” (nickname for the Kwik-Stoppe-Shoppe, Maggody’s convenience store, replaced in later books by Jim Bob’s SuperSaver Buy 4 Less)
•• 6 “old fart”s (but no farts of any other kind); descriptor used by the women of Maggody for Brother Verber
•• 6 “prick”s, but 0 of the other standard terms usually used for “penis” (eg no use of the word “cock” or “cocksucker
•• 4 “sexual frenzy” or “sexual gratification”; 2 uses of the word “sex” as a synonym for intercourse (but see comment on “fuck”, above)
After studying this matter I respectfully disagree with the earlier reviewer that Hess’s use of these words is gratuitous. Rather, I would argue that the use of this language is necessary to help the reader/listener to better understand the book’s less-than-stellar characters as well as immerse us fully in the particular ambiance that is Maggody, Arkansas.
The second assertion I felt compelled to explicate was the accusation that the book contained disgusting sexual fantasies/details. In my thirty years’ deep plunge in the Maggody ouevre I have found no explicit description of sexual fantasies or details in this or any other Arly Hanks story. Perhaps the reviewer listened to a different version of this novel? Again, I invite you to decide.
•• Breakup scene, Caroline & Monty, refers to “all those nights you were supposedly slaving away at the office while in fact you were indulging your carnal desires in my bed”—but there is no detailed description of said indulgence.
•• Brother Verber imagines that the women protesting the bank’s sexual discrimination are a coven of witches: “We all can see this is the work of the devil, particularly if you’re intending to get naked and slaughter farm animals and rub their blood on your bodies and dance”; he wonders “if they had orgies with demons or waited in line to be serviced by a high priest in a goat mask”; he imagines them “prancing around a bonfire…with blood dripping off their exposed bosoms and streaming down their bellies like dark red rivers. Sinful, curling, twining, ruby-colored rivers that flowed straight to eternal damnation, among other destinations.” Brother Verber’s fantasy never gets any more explicit or detailed than this; however he does make Mrs. Jim Bob uncomfortable because he won’t stop talking about it.
•• Staci Ellen, the secretary at the “Women Aligned Against Chauvinism in the Office” office (WAACO) reads what we used to call “bodice-rippers” back in the ‘80s: she “found the scene where the count with the slate gray eyes and the dueling scar on his cheek was holding the raven-haired, penniless governess (who was in truth a wealthy heiress but wouldn’t find out right until the next to last page) against her will and kissing her so hard it bruised her lips even though secretly she found herself strangely drawn to him and therefore unable to keep her breasts from heaving against his chest and herself from feeling a wave of heat in her loins that threatened to consume her. It was Staci Ellen’s favorite scene, especially after she’d looked up the word loins in the Women Aligned Against Chauvinism in the Office office dictionary.” That’s as detailed as Staci’s fantasies get.
•• There’s a short paragraph about Mayor Jim Bob going to see his girlfriend Cheri Lucinda for “a romp”, but no details are provided about the precise nature of their illicit rendezvous.
•• There are a few terse reminders that Kevin and Dahlia’s love has not always remained on the platonic level: “he figgered she must love him because she let him do such wondrous things between her legs, even when she used to be the clerk at the Kwik-Screw and he’d been obliged to crawl under the counter. Or when they’d been trapped in the outhouse, with the moon shining through the crescent in the door, she’d snuggled his face between her enormous breasts until he couldn’t breathe and had started seeing polka dots inside his eyes.” But exactly what did Dahlia let Kevin do? We have no details. Nor would we ever want them.
•• This is the first book in the series where we start to wonder about the relationship between moonshiner Raz Buchanan and his pedigree sow Marjorie. Again, no details are given. Thank God.
•• As in most of the Maggody books, there is a strain of sorrow underneath the wackiness. In this book, that seriousness is provided by the background and personality of the murder victim: he is a rapist, unpunished and unrepentant. Hess gives us a few sentences here and there to tell—not show—us the depth of his venality: the time he made someone give him a blow job while he was driving; the trophy for degeneracy he received from his frat brothers, proudly displayed in his office; the effort his father went through to keep him out of jail after the gang rape of a coed that resulted in banishment of the fraternity but no pursuit of charges against the rapists. The short references given to these terrible incidents are necessary for the plot, and are in no way gratuitous or detailed.
I can’t really speak to the next charge given in the earlier review, that the characters are one-dimensional, because I’ve read all sixteen books so many times I feel I know these people in depth. It is true there are a LOT of characters in MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY—maybe more than in most Arly Hanks books (I think I counted over 20 unique female characters, plus nearly that many men)—and if this is the only novel in the series you read/listen to, you may find them one-dimensional because that’s a lot of people in a book that’s only 256 pages/6 hours and 48 minutes.
Which leads us to the last charge: that this book has a convoluted story line. Oh, yeah. Joan Hess does something pretty unique in the Maggody books: they’re told in both first person AND third person. So we will have a first-person scene with Arly narrating her investigation of the bank fire; then next we have a third-person narrative of the bank manager and his wife talking in their home about the tragedy. This is how Hess allows us to really get to know her characters: we learn their thoughts and motivations directly, not only as filtered through Arly’s perception.
Which can be a challenge for an audio book narrator. MUCH ADO IN MAGGODY is narrated by Kristen Kalbli, a change from the five previous Maggody books offered through Audible. I appreciate her work and her attempt at Ozark accents, and have only a couple of suggestions for the next time she narrates one:
•• Mrs. Jim Bob’s voice should be clipped, nasal and unattractive. The mellifluous voice Kalbli gave her—quite the loveliest voice in the bunch—was just wrong.
•• When Arly refers to Mayor Jim Bob and Mrs. Jim Bob as “Hizzoner” and “Mizzoner” these terms are pronounced “HizONer” and “MizONer”—not “HIZoner” and “MIZoner”.
•• When you read the book in print the shift from first-person scene to third-person scene is indicated through the use of spaces on the page, which show us we’ve now moved to a different vignette. I strongly encourage anyone narrating these audio books to give the listener 3 or 4 seconds between such scenes, so we are not confused by the complete change in characters, location and situation from the previous sentence.
Please, Audible, give us the other 10 Maggody books!
And Joan Hess—please give us more Arly Hanks. 2010’s THE MERRY WIVES OF MAGGODY really left us hanging!