Asked to write a series of articles on Southern Homes and Gardens for a New York Magazine, Strekfus Beltzenschmidt (the main character in The Bark of the Dogwood) chooses not only some of the plantations and historic residences the South is known for, but places of his youth, including the home he grew up in and those of his relatives that he visited as a child. The intended articles become in essence, short stories, which then grow into the main characters memoirs about his turbulent and sometimes humorous childhood. The result is not only an ongoing battle with his boss over the magazines content and direction, but a painful journey into remembering the people and places of his past.
The opening statement of his first story, "When I was six years old I became locked inside the home of Helen Keller," is a clue into this insightful books revelations about how we are all in some way, deaf, dumb, or blind, if not literally, then at least spiritually or emotionally. The stories serve as chapters themselves in the novel, expertly intertwined with the modern day world of publishing in New York--each chapter commenting on the other and linked in ways that only become obvious as the reader digs deeper into the novel.
The Bark of the Dogwood is a dazzling display of virtuosity, combining rollicking humor and insights into human nature with a tale of horror and family secrets surpassing even the most Gothic Southern novel. The end result is a massive undertaking that works on several levelsso many, that it is up to the reader to decide just how deep he wants to delve into the colorful cast of characters whose lives are inextricably intertwined.