Debut novel ‘Minnow’ a fable-like wonder

MINNOW. By James E. McTeer II. Hub City Press. 227 pages. $24.95.

James McTeer’s debut novel, “Minnow,” is a wonderful, fable-like story of a young boy forced into an odyssey across the Sea Islands of the Lowcountry in an effort to save his dying father.

The story centers on Minnow, whose mother hands him a dollar and tells him to walk into town to buy medicine for his sick father. This quick errand soon devolves into a far more complicated challenge when Minnow learns the pharmacy does not stock the obscure medicine his father needs.

Instead, Minnow is told to go to Port Royal and see Dr. Crow, a mysterious herbal doctor who wears glasses with purple lenses. Dr. Crow agrees to help Minnow, but in exchange he demands the young boy retrieve dust from the grave of Sorry George, a notorious and evil deceased witch doctor.

Not only is Sorry George buried out on a Sea Island but his actual gravesite is a mystery. Minnow’s task is made more daunting by Dr. Crow’s dire warning: Sorry George will do everything he can — even from beyond the grave — to stop him.

Unnerved, Minnow sets off, soon joined on his journey by a stray dog. In the style of all classic quest stories, he is forced to confront a series of escalating challenges in his hunt for Sorry George’s grave.

Along the way, Minnow ultimately loses an eye and he even survives a hurricane by roping himself to a tree.

The winner of the 2014 S.C. First Novel Prize, co-sponsored by the S.C. Arts Commission and Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, “Minnow,” in many ways, reads like a fable. McTeer has accomplished this by leaving out many cultural and time-related clues that might orient the reader.

His father’s illness, for example, is never fully explained. Likewise, the only reference to a time period is a passing mention of a portrait of Minnow’s grandfather in a gray military uniform.

McTeer has instead chosen to shine a light on the unique cast of characters and the lush landscape of the Lowcountry Sea Islands in a time before condo complexes, hotels and resorts crowded the coast.

The result is a wonderful coming-of-age story of a young boy who will stop at nothing in his pursuit to save his father.

Reviewer James Scott is the author of “Target Tokyo,” “The War Below” and “The Attack on the Liberty.” He lives in Mount Pleasant.