Last year for Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge, I read Big Fish, by Daniel Wallace. For this year’s Challenge, I read another of his magical, unique books, The Watermelon King. I have to admit that I didn’t like this book as much as I did Big Fish, but Daniel Wallace has become one of my favorite authors because of the powerful images and emotions he evokes in his writing.
“I was a mystery to myself,” said Thomas Rider, eighteen years old, as he set off in search of answers about his mother, who died when he was born. Thomas was raised by his grandfather, who was a storyteller reminiscent of the father in Big Fish. Whenever he asked questions about his parents, his grandfather would answer with another grandly imaginative story.
“He never answered my questions directly. He tried to be clever, and he often was, but the more he didn’t tell me, the more I wanted to know. Who was she? Where did she go? What was she like? It felt like I was missing a piece of me. My life was like a book in which the first one hundred pages had been ripped out.”
Thomas’s search for his own identity takes him to Ashland, Alabama, (the same town as in Big Fish) where he was born and his mother had died. Ashland’s claim to fame was the annual Watermelon Festival, a strange fertility ritual in which a Watermelon King is crowned. In talking with the townspeople, a picture of his mother emerges, and the disturbing events surrounding her death and the demise of the Festival and ultimately the town are revealed. This is a poignant, humerous and disturbing book, but a story beautifully told, as only Daniel Wallace can do.