PURPLE JESUS. By Ron Cooper. Bancroft Press. 214 pages. $21.95.
Ron Cooper’s “Purple Jesus,” for anybody who grew up without a whiff of underage liquor, is a homemade concoction of high-octane alcohol and a low-octane something that tastes grapey.
There’s a pretty simple backwoods aroma to some pretty lethal dark humor in this burlesque of country ways set along a fictionalized Wadboo Creek in Berkeley County.
The “hero,” Purvis Driggers, is a propane delivery man trying to reclaim his loser life by robbing a house after he finds the owner dead. He falls puppy-eyed in love with Martha when he watches her get baptized in a creek water dunking. He sees her as his salvation and the loot supposedly hidden in the dead man’s wall as his redemption.
Let’s not even introduce the bestial, maybe mythical Hairy Man at this point. Instead, here’s Cooper describing Purvis’ vision of Martha:
“She looks at me — a look that could worm a dog. And her mouth. Lips like corn ... like mutton corn. Her eyes like an okra stem when you cut off the pod. And she’s swerving. All her arms curving in waves.”
Or Martha, that vision, as she surfaces from her baptism, spitting in the face of the preacher who groped her as he held her under:
“She stopped at the edge and looked back at the train disappearing into the trees. Can you actually jump a train like they say in those old songs? That would be one way to leave this s***-hole and four hundred-pound crying mother. With her luck she would probably pick a train that ended its run somewhere like Galivants Ferry and what good would that do?”
The Hairy Man, by the way, witnesses the baptism, too. All three will grope their way toward each other, the money and judgment itself by the time the Purple Jesus is poured.
Cooper, a Lowcountry native, is a philosophy professor who is also the author of “Heidegger and Whitehead: A Phenomenological Examination into the Intelligibility of Experience.” That and “Purple Jesus” make for a strange brew.
This story stirs up some fun, but it isn’t authentic Lowcountry, much less Berkeley County. It’s down-and-dirty lampoonery at the expense of some pretty broadly drawn characters, a party tale with a swashing guffaw of a moral. Consider this a swig. If it gets you giggling, there’s plenty more over there in the plastic garbage can at the boat landing.
Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter at The Post and Courier.