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The Bark Of The Dogwood: A Tour Of Southern Homes And Gardens Paperback – Feb 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Enolam Group Inc (February 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971553629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971553620
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #116,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Strekfus sat staring out the window. Read the first page
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Len TOP 100 REVIEWER on July 10 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a novel of the Southern U.S. that provides some of the most hilarious descriptions of childhood I have ever read. His main character, Strekfus Beltzenschmidt was born in 1956 and is raised amongst all the fear and paranoia that was characteristic of that era. His life is told through a series of articles on Southern homes that the adult Strekfus of 1996 and '97 has been assigned to document. The first describes him as a pre-schooler getting locked in the house of Helen Keller while on a tour of the place with his parents. In the next article, Srekfus, again as young boy, raids his mother's clothes cupboard, dresses as Julia Child and proceeds to make a cake, all the time pretending to be his favourite celebrity cook. His fantasy quickly becomes undone by reality and the story moves from funny to hilarious. Unfortunately, what is funny in childhood becomes pathos in adolescence and so does the story. The stories turn into a memoire that become therapy for the writer and entertaining to the readership. The discrepancy between what his editor has intended him to write and the actual product lead to lots of animosity between the two. Strekfus loses touch with reality and must search his past to resolve the irrational anger and fear he is experiencing the present. Of course, this comes from his father and a series of coincidental incidents linked that took place in his childhood. It becomes a bit contrived however the humour with which this is written makes it work. It reminds of John Irving novels like The World According to Garp or Cider House Rules.
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By Laura on Nov. 20 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All I can say is this book really disappointed me. I adore interesting literature. This story sounded intriguing. I love history and I am fascinated with our Southern neighbours and their lore.
I carefully considered all the reviews before I purchased this very expensive book. I don't usually spend this much money.
I enjoyed the author's recounts of his bizarre childhood, and figuring out the anagrams of characters names (pointed out by a previous reviewer); but the passages taking place in his office at the magazine, and his relationship with his fellow employees and lover; didn't reel me in at all. I gave up trying after 171 pages. (it took me months to get even that far, as I kept reading more interesting books!)
If I have to force myself to continue reading a book, then I won't bother with it indefinitely.
I don't mean to insult the author in any way, (I could never write a book!) and I realise everyone else seems to love his work. This is just my humble opinion.
I wouldn't recommend it to a friend.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nath Drouin on Oct. 30 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you like story telling, you will enjoy this one. Very well put together and very funny. Yes ok, the story will take you somewhere that is hard to believe but just one tiny chapter. Witty, charming and faux honest. Mccrae is my favorite writer.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 61 reviews
226 of 234 people found the following review helpful
A rare thing Feb. 6 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's rare to come across such a well-written book as this. While the premise alone is enough to pull you in (A New York magazine writer is asked to write a series on Southern homes and gardens,only to choose the homes he grew up in and visited as a child), the execution of this major work of fiction is astounding, coupling different literary styles and voices with alternating chapters. If you're one for metaphors, symbolism, snappy dialogue, well developed characters, and a plot that will make your head spin, this book is for you. But what's so amazing about it is that it can be read on so many levels. If you're looking for a good story, this is it. If you're looking for something that has several layers to it, complete with anagrams, puzzles, and double-entendres, this is also it. It's actually a book within a book--quite a unique structure, and the settings swing back and forth between New York and the South. There's running commentary on Southern traditions, what it's like to live in NY, and a little of everything else. The characters are so well thought out that they virtually leap off the page, especially those of Althea (the black housekeeper) and the evil boss (Edwin Sagaser). But the most remarkable character is Strekfus (named after Truman Capote--his real name was Truman Streckfus Persons). It's through his eyes that we see two different views of how things are. First, we are shown, via the "short stories," how he'd like to remember things. Then in the New York sections we get to hear the "stories" argued over. Toward the end of this complex and exciting novel we come to find out what really is behind these amusing tales and folks, be prepared, because it's one hell of a mystery that gets solved. There are scenes that will curl your hair, one especially about three-quarters of the way through this work. This is not for the faint-of-heart, but stay with it, for the end is especially rewarding and full of promise. The flavor of the book, and even some of its themes of race, conflict within the human heart, and growing up, are likened to Kidd's "Secret Life of Bees," though "Dogwood" moves along at a faster clip. This is one book you'll want to pass on to a friend.
284 of 304 people found the following review helpful
Few will actually get it July 30 2004
By Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
While this is one of the funniest books I've ever read, it's also extremely complicated and in places, very disturbing. It's disturbing to think that anyone would focus on the violence in this book and not see the goodness it possesses. Below is a partial breakdown of some of the elements, but not all:
TITLE OF THE BOOK: Strekfus, the main character, is a precocious six-year old who insists on using the Latin names for things (plants, flowers, animals). At one point, the African-American housekeeper insists that he use the phrase the "bark of the Dogwood" instead of the one he is using: bark of the cornus florida. This, while he's watching his father practically beat to death a young sapling. Strekfus never does acquiesce, at least until he titles the book, "The Bark of the Dogwood." It's his homage to the housekeeper after finding out exactly what her life was all about, and the incredible sacrifice she made for him. But given McCrae's penchant for word games (many of the names are anagrams), it's impossible to believe he didn't mean for "The Bark of the Dog" (without the wood) to mean something. There are myriad dog themes snarling through this book, and at one point, he's even reading a book by Truman Capote titled "The Dogs Bark." There are also two myths surrounding the Dogwood tree. McCrae tells us one, but only hints at the other. The first centers around the fact that if you beat a dogwood tree, it will bloom more profusely in the spring. This is one giant metaphor for the fact that Strekfus is an abused child. He's "blooming" by writing this book-the one you're reading. He's making something out of his life regardless of the bad experiences he's had. The second myth centers on the fact that supposedly the cross Christ was crucified on was made from a dogwood tree. When Strekfus's father is seen beating the dogwood tree, it's a double metaphor for not only beating his son, but for wrestling with the horrible overuse of religion that his family has been serving up for generations.
TRUMAN CAPOTE: Capote is a main influence for this novel. One often feels at times that McCrae is actually channeling the voice of Capote. Truman Capote's real name was Streckfus Truman Persons. McCrae has obviously done his homework, for Capote fans will recognize the reference to the short story "Dazzle" from his "Music for Chameleons," in which Capote is coerced into stealing something to pay off a Voodoo priestess. The connection continues with the beginning of a story in "Dogwood" where McCrae purposefully imitates TC and his story "Children on Their Birthdays." The Capote story starts off "Yesterday afternoon the six-o'clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit." The McCrae chapter starts: "At exactly eleven fifty-three, the M29 bus ran over and killed Mr. Brad Castratis." There are too many connections to go into, but if you want to look for them, they're there: Streckfus reading "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the female roommate with the twelve-inch cigarette holder a la Holly Golightly, the "snake" theme running through the book (Capote had a fascination with snakes.) There's even a scene toward the end of the book where a New Orleans dowager's glass eye comes rolling down the stairs---reminiscent of the red tennis ball that continually made its way down the stairs in Capote's "Other Voices, Other Rooms." As if this weren't enough for "over the top McCrae," it's also a reference to Helen Keller and the fact that she had both of her eyes replaced by artificial ones ("Helen Keller: A life" by Dorothy Herrmann). Remember that each chapter starts with a Helen Keller quote? This guy knows his stuff.
FORM OF THE BOOK: McCrae once again takes his cue from Capote. When Truman wrote his "In Cold Blood," he created a new type of "hybrid" novel---one that could be read many ways. McCrae has done the same thing, and carried it to extremes. "Dogwood" can be read on purely the most superficial level for the good story that it is. Secondly, if you want to peel the layers off, they're there for the taking. Metaphors and symbols abound and you can spend years trying to decipher them all. Thirdly, there are anagrams, puzzles, and connections that go on and on. To really get everything, you'd have to read this book several times. As if this weren't enough, McCrae has created a book within a book. Actually it's two books, and each can be read separately and still work. They interlock in the most ingenious way, literally feeding off one another. The New York chapters can be read by themselves and make sense as one book. Then the southern "short story" chapters can be read and form another book, complete with plots, the same characters, and a satisfying ending. Most books fall neatly into one genre such as humor or romance. McCrae has created a book that is humor, horror, fiction, truth, documentary, and even fantasy.
COINCIDENCES AND CONNECTIONS: Everything and everyone in this book is connected somehow. If you're looking for a book with loose ends, this isn't it. Everything, and I do mean everything has a purpose. McCrae does this for a reason. The obvious connections are there to make you think (and for those who like a commercial-type book that even a non-reader can enjoy). But few will get this, for there are even more connections that the ones presented. Example: The characters of Roman Yapigacy and Strekfus are actually brothers. You will probably miss this unless you pay attention. There are myriad examples of this throughout the book. There's also the idea of a "gift" at the end of the southern chapters: "My whole life has been a gift." McCrae also gives the reader a gift by literally pulling all the strings together, all the connections, and tying it up in a neat package. Metaphors again. The only thing missing is the bow. Keep in mind that the main character in this book KNOWS the story. It's his job to piece it together and show you how everything is connected. There's also the "Six Degrees of Separation" idea that runs through the book. Also, Capote often said that Dickens was his favorite author and that he read and re-read him many times. McCrae obviously knows this and takes his cue, connecting people and events shamelessly the way Charles D. might have. And "Dogwood" is a Victorian novel, again following in the master's footsteps. Read on.
ANAGRAMS: Too many of these to count. Here's a few: Roman Yapigacy (gay pyromaniac); Brad Castratis (racist bastard); Sanseveria trifasciata (a fairest Caesarian visit); Danville (evil land); Ima Chitbill-Tallymen (I'm a mentally ill bi**h). Then there's Sanford Straussgirdle. If you scramble the letters in his name, you get the title of the two chapters he's in. Other than that, you wouldn't know it's the same person. The list goes on and on, with even some references to numerology. Some of the unscrambled anagrams are unprintable here. Given Strekfus's mind and the round about way it works (think autism again and one of the opening stories about how his mind works, or doesn't) it's no wonder he's tried to throw us off the track by writing what some people might call the "most obvious" types of connections. Dig deeper-it's all there.
INFANTACIDE: Okay. Here's the one part of the book that may turn some readers off. The part of the book that has everyone in an uproar. Yes, an infant gets murdered, but it's the "how" that is bothering so many people. I don't believe the book is supposed to be so much about child abuse as it is about the heroics of an African-American housekeeper in Alabama during the civil rights era. Still, the idea of the infant or "baby" is rampant throughout the book. The town that much of the action takes place in is called "Infanta, Alabama." Couple this with the opening scene which is violent, and the use of murder, even on a child, should not come as a shock. As someone has said, "this is not a book for the faint of heart." Just don't say that the horrific event was sprung on you; it wasn't-there are signs everywhere. Don't like violence? Then don't read the bible, world history, or the newspaper.
BOTTOMLINE: Violent, shocking, hilarious, complicated, well-crafted, and even tender, the unfortunate thing is that most people simply won't get everything this book has to offer or appreciate its merits. Greek drama is filled with coincidence, Shakespeare is full of shameless puns and jokes, and Dickens can border on the absurd. The Beach Boys never surfed and America's greatest "classical" music (Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein) was written by those of Russian/Jewish extraction. Want a perfect novel? Good luck finding it. In the mean time, this will do nicely till one comes along.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Race, memory, and family dysfunction July 7 2004
By Bradley Wallace - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I initially picked this novel up in a bookstore, intent on scanning the inside flap and first few pages. An hour later, after repeatedly being asked if I needed help, a salesperson informed me that I should either buy the book or put it back. Unfortunately I didn't buy it, and as a result, lost an entire night's sleep over it. So now, after purchasing it and finishing it in two days, I'm happy to report that my instincts were right. What a book! Now I'm not getting any sleep because some of the chapters in the book keep me up at night-the images are that strong. A word of warning: there are passages in the book that deal with child abuse. This is not something to be taken lightly, but McCrae balances this with a good deal of humor and insight.
If you're looking for a fun read with brilliantly drawn characters, a great plot, and writing that has no equal, look no further. This is the one book you'll want to read. It takes a truly talented writer to handle material that is as volatile as this, and you'll be glad you're in good hands when you get to certain chapters.
The book is also very funny, with hysterical passages and incidents that will keep you laughing well after you've finished the book. I can do no more than recommend this book. The best by far that I've read this season.
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Major literary accomplishment April 28 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The first thing that jumps out at the reader of this hilarious, dark, wonderful, and beautifully written tale, is the style of writing. It's something of a cross between Truman Capote, David Sedaris, and Fannie Flagg. And the Capote connection comes in for obvious reasons: The main character in this novel is named for him-Streckfus. Capote's real name was Truman Streckfus Persons and the similarities don't stop there. At one point it's explained that the father of the main character had a playmate in New Orleans with this very same name, and at the same time that Capote was visiting relatives in that, his hometown. Coincidence? I think not. The father figure that had the playmate ends up naming his son Streckfus. All of this is deliberate yet so deftly crafted into the book that could easily be missed by the average reader. The unbridled imagination of McCrae is thoroughbred, but if you can't keep up don't worry-the author has written in a "safety" element, that is to say, you can read this book for the great story that it is, without all the fancy bells and whistles that make it fodder for academics and the literary set.
So if you're not one to look for the many layers this book has, you might be content with reading it for what it is: a knock-out tale, wonderfully crafted, by a talented writer. Suffice it to say that "Dogwood" won't disappoint you if you're looking for a plot that moves; one that is full of more than just a little sound and fury. There are enough twists and turns in this literary accomplishment to make you do a double take-and after each chapter at that.
The surface story, while seemingly simple, makes its way through a labyrinth of characters worthy of a Dickens novel. Only with McCrae's structured and talented handling of these people are we able to keep them all straight. There are sign posts along the way-look more closely at this character, not that one. And myriad examples of subtle foreshadowing that seem innocuous. But beware, while "Dogwood" is at times laugh-out-loud funny, there is a dark underbelly that will challenge even the most jaded and tough reader. And while at times the scenes seem to meander away from the primary focus of the book, trust me, they don't. Every word is there for a reason, tied intricately to the plot.
At the end of this stellar work everything comes together. Not in a plebian commercial way, of course, but in a way that will surprise you. It will seem so obvious where the book is headed; you'll be telling yourself you know the outcome. But wait, for what happens is truly amazing-a summing up of all that's come before; a bringing together of people places. And even material objects that before seemed to have no connection now are suddenly related as the last few chapters of the book unfolds. The final chapters are a tour-de-force of genius and bound to make you ask, "Where has this writer been?"
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
The definition of a classic March 11 2004
By Lloyd Nolan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's been said that the definition of a classic is that it changes everything that comes after it, and the way we look at everything that came before. If that's the case, McCrae's "Dogwood" will surely do that. It not only takes form to an entirely new level, but brings new meaning to the phrase "book of ideas" and the term "psychological."
The immense volume of ribald frosted festoonery is staggering in this tale of intoxicatingly exotic travels, and the main character of Strekfus Beltzenschmidt is by far the most interesting yet created in the past three hundred years. McCrae is shameless in his use of drama, but it works, with twists and turns so new and fresh that they're only outdone by the author's impeccable sense of timing and insight into the human condition.
And who would have thought that a book that ultimately deals with child abuse and psychosis could also be funny? Hysterical, in fact. The narrator of the work (again, Strekfus) has so many handicaps that they're too abundant to name. One, however is Dissociative Identity Disorder. It would seem that he's also blessed with ADD and a host of other ailments, making him the target for mistreatment by not only his parents, but teachers and fellow classmates as well. And this in turn is the reason for his ability to relate so strongly to other figures in the book: Helen Keller, the oppressed maid, minorities. Anyone interested in multiple personalities and the antics that illness can create must read this book. While it's certainly no self-help variety, it does offer an amazing portrait of how one individual deals with abuse, dysfunction, and mental illness, all carefully and for the most part couched in sometimes seemingly innocuous incidents that later explode with the subtlety of an atomic bomb. It's an excellent study in where humor comes from as well, for while were given some of the funniest incidents ever to grace the written page, we're also shown what "really" happened-what caused the "wrong and funny" remembering, a few chapters later.
One word of warning: It's also been said that there's nothing new under the sun. One chapter toward the end of the book will change your opinion on that-you'll need to put the novel down at that point just to catch your breath as the author has written a scene like no other. How he ever came up with it is a mystery probably better left unsolved.
Excellent dialogue, witty observations, clever premise, and remarkable execution of the ideas make this one of the best reads out there. The people are real, but with enough eccentricities to keep them interesting, and the form of the book is totally new. This is a book within a book, really, with a group of short stories making up twelve of the chapters. Around that is another book, set in New York. Each of these chapters comments on the other and while the "southern" chapters are verbose and sometimes a little purple, the New York ones are clipped and to the point. The juxtaposition of styles is remarkably different and yet it somehow works, again, adding to the DID or multiple personality theme. Toward the end of the book there is also a mention of anagrams and this is a clue about the sometimes complicated names in the book (Beltzenschmidt, Castratis, Straussgirdle, etc). Then there are the Latin names for some of the plants. Most of these are also anagrams. Fascinating. And to the author's credit, he doesn't explain all of them. It's not "right up front" as he probably figures you're smart enough to want to go back and figure them out. All in all a great read with laugh-out-loud moments and a "secret" that will keep you up at night. The tumbling exuberance of this brilliant novel, with its laugh-out-loud scenes and delving into the human heart is like no other.


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