Welcome to Higby

( 5 )

Overview

Following the national success of Ella Minnow Pea, this second novel from Mark Dunn brings the same charm and love of good language to a small town in the South. A Robert Altmanesque comedy, Welcome to Higby follows the hilarious goings-on in a small town in northern Mississippi over Labor Day weekend. From mousy Carmen Valentine, whose guardian angel, Arnetta, gives her penny-pinching shopping tips, to addled old Hank Grammar, who preaches Jesus to his neighbors' pets, Higby's townsfolk have a knack for getting ...

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Welcome to Higby

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Overview

Following the national success of Ella Minnow Pea, this second novel from Mark Dunn brings the same charm and love of good language to a small town in the South. A Robert Altmanesque comedy, Welcome to Higby follows the hilarious goings-on in a small town in northern Mississippi over Labor Day weekend. From mousy Carmen Valentine, whose guardian angel, Arnetta, gives her penny-pinching shopping tips, to addled old Hank Grammar, who preaches Jesus to his neighbors' pets, Higby's townsfolk have a knack for getting into — and trouble getting out of — outrageous situations. Blessed with an unerring eye for dead-on details, Dunn lovingly traces the eccentric and touching lives of his characters, offering an intelligent yet heartwarming vision of life in small-town America. Welcome to Higby is a Southern comical tale about simple dreams both realized and thwarted by all the complexities of the human heart.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Leif Enger author of Peace Like a River Mark Dunn is a wry eyewitness along the lines of James Wilcox or Larry McMurtry; Welcome to Higby is as farcical as Modern Baptists, as winning as Texasville. Impish and forgiving, here is a writer who observes the commandment: Thou shalt love thy characters. And they pay him back in buckets.

Paula Friedman The Miami Herald Dunn uses human peculiarity in the service of creating empathy, conjuring an atmosphere of wise affection in the process. The small town of Higby, with its accidents, fortuitous encounters, and zany coincidences, offers life at its most ordinary and its most extraordinary.

Colleen Kelly Warren St. Louis Post-Dispatch Every single one of [Dunn's] characters are just so darn likable, and the author's view of humanity so essentially generous, that the reader is gradually sucked into Higby....Welcome to Higby is good-hearted fun.

Pat MacEnulty, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL) Dunn's careful imbedding of humor has an organic quality that turns the book into a real page-turner, not so much to find out what happens but to see what surprising gem you'll find on the next page.

USA Today [H]umor and human sentiment quickly hook the reader into taking up residence. A three-day weekend in Higby isn't long enough.

Publishers Weekly
Writing in the spirit of his clever debut novel, Ella Minnow Pea, in which an island's language-loving inhabitants must adapt to a shrinking alphabet, Dunn delivers another witty and intricate book. This time he uses biblical quotations to guide his narrative, which tracks the residents of Higby, Miss., during Labor Day weekend of 1993, as they search for happiness, love and salvation. The tightly interwoven story lines feature a veritable swarm of oddballs, including Stewie Kipp, a born-again Christian whose fiancee, Marci Luck, resents his attempts at piety; Talitha Leigh, a floozy who is kidnapped by an extremist vegan cult and renamed "Blithe"; and dim-witted Euless Ludlam, who finds himself on the receiving end of a huge inheritance. The Bible quotes aren't just gimmicky transitional devices, since the novel closely follows themes of redemption and salvation, albeit in a screwball manner: as one character, Carmen Valentine, notes, "My guardian angel likes to help me stretch my shopping dollar." The collision of celestial concepts and quirky mannerisms makes the book both laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly touching. At its core is the belief that "God equals love," though the characters demonstrate this in some rather strange ways. Dunn, a playwright, has a wonderful ear for dialogue; his rich and enticing prose, elegant structuring and wonderful attention to the smallest of details make this novel a delight. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Dunn's sophomore effort may have even more popular appeal than Ella Minnow Pea, which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title, a Top Ten Book Sense Pick and the recipient of a Borders Original Voices Award. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The feckless frolics of a Mississippi town fill the pages of Dunn's clever, comical second outing, which romps on the heels of his acclaimed Ella Minnow Pea (2001). The school of hard knocks is in session in Higby, but none of the knocks is ever quite a knockout. When teenager Clint, the minister's son still missing his mamma a couple of years after her death, falls off the town's rickety old water-tower when the catwalk gives way, he falls into a swimming pool and emerges with only bruises. His dad, Oren, doubts himself and his faith after Clint's mishap, but a chance encounter with the owner of Higby's massage parlor gives him something else to think about. Meanwhile, on her way to a party at Tie's house, a man she's admired from afar in church, Carmen Valentine trips over a crack in the sidewalk and scrapes the skin off half her face. Deciding to skip the party, she massively rear-ends Euless's pickup, which he's stopped along the road to help the Alzheimer's-befuddled brother of his mother's best friend. Carmen decides she might like Euless better than Tie, who has by now already begun to make out with his housemate Stewie's fiancé, who is fed up with Stewie having recently dedicated his life to Christ. As for Euless, he's ashamed of his carnal feelings for Carmen and runs away when she takes him home. Stewie and his fiancé, on the other hand, rediscover their passion for each other in a most unlikely place. And then there's the good-times sister of the ex-con's girlfriend who's kidnapped by a local religious cult. Characters largely conventional, slightly soulful, and just a bit off their nut are the tried-and-true formula of any wacky southern farce, but success herestems also from the delightful way so many lives are seamlessly made utterly interdependent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743249881
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 8/26/2003
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 0.79 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Dunn is the author of Ella Minnow Pea, a winner of the Borders Original Voices Award, a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title. He has written twenty-five plays and is currently the playwright-in-residence with the New Jersey Repertory Company and Community Theatre League in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Originally from Memphis, he now resides with his wife in Greenwich Village.

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Introduction

Welcome to Higby

1. Look at the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. How do they affect your experience of the book? Do you need to be familiar with the Bible to "get" the meaning of the quote both in and out of the context of Welcome to Higby? Why?

2. Who is the central character of Welcome to Higby? Why? What connects the characters? What archetypes do the characters represent? What is author Mark Dunn telling us about life when Euless inherits a huge fortune?

3. What are the themes of the novel? Were they a surprise to you or what you expected from the beginning?

4. Why do people believe in guardian angels? Why does Carmen? On page 194, what is happening in the story that allows Carmen to say good-bye to hers? Consider Carmen's car crashing into Euless's. Could it have been caused by her guardian angel? Why do you think the crash happens? What is the result of the crash?

5. At the beginning of Welcome to Higby, why does Clint go up the water tower? Share whether or not you agree with Ponce's take on Clint's climbing, that it "'has nothing to do with adventure'" (page 48), and why. What, if any, is the significance of Clint's falling into a pool?

6. Looking at Chapters 1 through 18, do you have an idea about the race of the characters? What clues does the author provide? Is race important to the story? Why?

7. Thinking about Oren's and Ponce's friendship—one a preacher, the other an atheist—discuss Ponce's comments to Oren on page 76 that God might be a crutch that "had not served all that useful a purpose anyway." Why could Oren's belief in God be a crutch? Why is Oren more ready to hear this nowrather than earlier?

8. Share your reaction to Talitha's predicament when she signed a contract with the Brothers and Sisters of Redemption. Do you know enough about Talitha to say whether or not she might benefit from such a group? What is the role of this group in Welcome to Higby?

9. Looking at the character's names throughout Welcome to Higby, why do you think Mark Dunn chose them? How do they reflect or reveal the individual's personality or persona? Discuss what other methods Mark Dunn uses to lay out this story. For example, consider how short chapters affect the story and the reader, and that most chapters begin with a character's name. What are the reasons, if any, for this?

10. In Chapter 42, Oren thinks about being both a father and a minister. Why does he say that these are two of the toughest and most thankless jobs in the world? Discuss whether or not you agree with Oren that Clint doesn't want or need a father, and why. Do you believe that Oren is thinking more about his own feelings than those of his son? Why?

11. Why does Hank have labels on his things (Chapter 49)? What is it about this that makes Tula cry? What is the symbolism of Hank's bassoon?

12. What drives Stewie to go get drunk after he talks to his pastor (page 279)? Should Stewie have been kicked out of the church? Is it an "accident of fate" that brought Stewie to hear Jeannie Plough sing the day after their one night stand?

13. In Chapter 68, both Stewie and Clint climb the water tower. What does the tower represent? Discuss the events on and around the tower on that stormy night, and why you believe Dunn places these two men on the structure at this particular time. What is the symbolism of the lightning striking both the tower and the steeple of Calvary United Christian Church?

14. Looking at Welcome to Higby's structure and language, including its short chapters, vivid descriptions, and abundant dialogue, how is it like a stage play? How does this story work better as a novel?

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Reading Group Guide

Welcome to Higby

1. Look at the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. How do they affect your experience of the book? Do you need to be familiar with the Bible to "get" the meaning of the quote both in and out of the context of Welcome to Higby? Why?

2. Who is the central character of Welcome to Higby? Why? What connects the characters? What archetypes do the characters represent? What is author Mark Dunn telling us about life when Euless inherits a huge fortune?

3. What are the themes of the novel? Were they a surprise to you or what you expected from the beginning?

4. Why do people believe in guardian angels? Why does Carmen? On page 194, what is happening in the story that allows Carmen to say good-bye to hers? Consider Carmen's car crashing into Euless's. Could it have been caused by her guardian angel? Why do you think the crash happens? What is the result of the crash?

5. At the beginning of Welcome to Higby, why does Clint go up the water tower? Share whether or not you agree with Ponce's take on Clint's climbing, that it "'has nothing to do with adventure'" (page 48), and why. What, if any, is the significance of Clint's falling into a pool?

6. Looking at Chapters 1 through 18, do you have an idea about the race of the characters? What clues does the author provide? Is race important to the story? Why?

7. Thinking about Oren's and Ponce's friendship — one a preacher, the other an atheist — discuss Ponce's comments to Oren on page 76 that God might be a crutch that "had not served all that useful a purpose anyway." Why could Oren's belief in God be a crutch? Why is Oren more ready to hear this now rather than earlier?

8. Share your reaction to Talitha's predicament when she signed a contract with the Brothers and Sisters of Redemption. Do you know enough about Talitha to say whether or not she might benefit from such a group? What is the role of this group in Welcome to Higby?

9. Looking at the character's names throughout Welcome to Higby, why do you think Mark Dunn chose them? How do they reflect or reveal the individual's personality or persona? Discuss what other methods Mark Dunn uses to lay out this story. For example, consider how short chapters affect the story and the reader, and that most chapters begin with a character's name. What are the reasons, if any, for this?

10. In Chapter 42, Oren thinks about being both a father and a minister. Why does he say that these are two of the toughest and most thankless jobs in the world? Discuss whether or not you agree with Oren that Clint doesn't want or need a father, and why. Do you believe that Oren is thinking more about his own feelings than those of his son? Why?

11. Why does Hank have labels on his things (Chapter 49)? What is it about this that makes Tula cry? What is the symbolism of Hank's bassoon?

12. What drives Stewie to go get drunk after he talks to his pastor (page 279)? Should Stewie have been kicked out of the church? Is it an "accident of fate" that brought Stewie to hear Jeannie Plough sing the day after their one night stand?

13. In Chapter 68, both Stewie and Clint climb the water tower. What does the tower represent? Discuss the events on and around the tower on that stormy night, and why you believe Dunn places these two men on the structure at this particular time. What is the symbolism of the lightning striking both the tower and the steeple of Calvary United Christian Church?

14. Looking at Welcome to Higby's structure and language, including its short chapters, vivid descriptions, and abundant dialogue, how is it like a stage play? How does this story work better as a novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2007

    Surprisingly good

    This is a great story by Mark Dunn and it told in a creative fashion much like 'ella minnow pea' was. This story is fast paced and chapters are usually no more than 5 pagess a piece. The book is mostly dialogue and at first that was off-putting, but I sooon got used to it and the characters did begin to develop deeper as the story went on. The biblical quotes are great and make complete sense with each chapter. As a non-Christian, I was not offended by these quotes. It is amazing how well the quotes match up to each tale.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A hoot

    The Labor Day weekend of 1993 finds the residents of Higby, Mississippi seeking happiness though everyone looks for this mythos differently. Teenage Clint and his minister father have not recovered from the death of Clint¿s mom nor do they share their feelings of doubt and struggles with struggles with their beliefs. That changes when Clint falls from a water tower luckily into a swimming pool and dad meets the massage parlor owner.<P> Carmen Valentine trips over a crack but does not break her mother¿s back. Instead she badly peeled her face¿s epidermis. She follows up this scrape by plowing into the pickup of Euless, who had stopped to help an Alzheimer's victim.<P> Euless and Marci, the girlfriend of his roommate Stewie, shared intimacy. However, Marci has since found Jesus, but not in Euless¿ bedroom. Euless worries that there is something wrong with him when he feels the hots for Carmen. Meanwhile Stewie and Marci reconcile passionately while alas a cult kidnaps poor Talitha. Labor Day in Hixby is like any other day in a town where bedlam is the norm even for those who try to strictly adhere to the Word.<P> WELCOME TO HIXBY is a tremendously amusing look at the Southern lifestyle through a series of interrelated stories. The book is not an anthology as incidents in one-segment impact events in another. Fans will enjoy the antics of the eccentric while praying this does not happen to me. The use of biblical quotes are not chapter gimmicks but instead add to the overall flow that makes this book feel like a novel whose theme is enjoy life by finding God in your own way.<P> Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2002

    A Perfect Delight!

    Having thoroughly enjoyed "Ella Minnow Pea", I couldn't wait to get my hands on "Welcome to Higby". Dunn is a true talent; the book lived up to my every expectation. His characters are will-drawn and likeable, and the plot is captivating and entertaining. Dunn brings the reader to his theme of "God equals Love" with gentle subtlety; I especially enjoyed the catharsis (if one can enjoy a catharsis) experienced by Clint near the end of the story. If only we could all find the answer so gracefully! I have recommended "Welcome to Higby" to several people, all of whom agree that it is a wonderful read and a real uplift.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2010

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