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Man Martin’s Paradise Dogs  shouts “retro’’ with its neon title riding in the sky above an aqua car, roadside diner and pink (!) alligator. Indeed, we’re boarding the wayback machine to Central Florida in the 1960s B.D. (Before Disney).

“Interstate 4 had come through,’’ Martin writes early in the book, “but the region still fairly trembled in anticipation of the next big thing, the thing that would lift it from being a largely rural cracker town into  something like modern glory as had happened in Palm Springs and Miami.’’

Adam Newman, 47, is a homely real estate agent/dreamer with lots of charm, great expectations, and a talent for reinventing himself at any given moment. As he gases up his car at the Sinclair on Eola, he ponders his sort-of plan to win back his ex-wife Evelyn, with whom he once ran a restaurant serving only hot dogs. A pocketful of loose diamonds should help his cause, but what of his clingy young fiancé, Lily?

To say complications ensue as Adam tries to return to the Eden of yesteryear proves to be an understatement. Martin’s allegorically-named characters get up to all sorts of mischief, and the resulting comedy of errors borders on high farce and tomfoolery.  A major plot point, which includes mysterious land purchases, will come as no surprise to Central Floridians, but Martin – who grew up in Florida and now lives in Georgia – has a deft hand with local color and shows true affection for his goofy hero.

Paradise Dogs may not be what old-timers call an “E-ticket,’’ yet it’s still an agreeable ride back to an orange-blossom-scented past not yet paved with theme parks.  Easy “A.’’

Open Book: Paradise Dogs by Man Martin (St. Martin’s Press) is a SIBA summer “Okra” pick from Southern booksellers. I bought the e-book edition for my nook, although I wish I had a larger picture of the cool cover.

Date Book: Man Martin will be signing copies of Paradise Dogs at 7 p.m. Wednesday July 6 at the Orlando Barnes & Noble on E. Colonial Drive. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Southern belles are nothing if not resourceful. Scarlett O’Hara set the bar high when she turned those green velvet curtains into a fancy ballgown. Then there was Aunt Lucille in Mark Childress’ 1993 novel Crazy in Alabama, who came up with an unconventional use for Tupperware as she headed for Hollywood. Now, there’s Georgia Bottoms — not a place but a person — and the title character in Childress’ new Southern- fried funhouse of a tale.

A thirtysomething beauty who lives with her mother and younger brother in the old family home, Georgia  sits in the same pew at the Baptist church every Sunday and hosts a lavish ladies’ luncheon each September. She knows that keeping up appearances in Six Points, Ala., means keeping secrets. Like Little Mama is losing her mind but not her racist attitudes. Like Brother is a lovable loser who slips out for a beer after AA meetings. Like the quilts Georgia sells for a huge markup aren’t her own handiwork. That she’s living off the “gifts” of six gentlemen callers, each of whom she entertains on a strictly scheduled night of the week in the garage apartment. Not a one knows about the other. 

“It takes a special kind of woman to slip out of her own skin into a man’s fantasy, then back into herself, night after night without losing track of who she was. Sometimes she had to be the most sensitive, sharp-seeing person on earth. Other times it was better to be blind. It took Georgia years to learn this.”

Georgia is the very soul of discretion. Which is why she is aghast one Sunday morning when her Mr. Saturday Night — the preacher — stammers at the pulpit, apparently intending to confess his sins to the congregation. The wheels are about to come off Georgia’s little red wagon, her life careening out of control, unless . . . What would Scarlett do?

Georgia’s immediate and successive plans to rescue herself from scandal call on all her resources in the days to come and the years ahead.  It also provides for one laugh-aloud set piece after another as Childress, who grew up in Alabama and now lives in Key West, expertly skewers Southern manners and morals, lingering issues of class and race. 

 The town doctor experiences embarrassing side effects from the little blue pill he pops. The FBI hauls off Brother as a suspected domestic terrorist.   Little Mama’s pellet gun peppers a couple of deputy sheriffs. A lanky young black man from New Orleans with familiar good looks shows up at Georgia’s door.

Childress’ characters are comic without being cartoonish, and Georgia’s stubborn self-interest makes her more than a high-class call girl with a heart of gold. Early in the story, when the events of 9/11 derail her luncheon, her attempts to give away the party food offend a pediatrician who later runs for mayor against Georgia’s best friend, who blames her.

Georgia doesn’t pay much attention to life beyond Six Points, but Childress does, and the pay-off is an ending just so appropriate for this blithe belle that you’ll be sorry to see her in the rear-view mirror. Georgia Bottoms  is a keeper.

Open Book: I first met Mark Childress years ago when I interviewed him about his novel Tender,  about a Southern boy with a big voice and certain similarities to an icon who has left the building.  These days we keep up on Facebook. I bought the e-book version of Georgia Bottoms (Little Brown), which is a spring Okra pick from SIBA.

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