The Front Porch Prophet is a debut novel by Raymond L. Atkins about a fictional small town in Georgia. The story is told through its main character, A.J. Longstreet, and opens with the tale of how he came to know Eugene Purdue, his childhood best friend who is now dying of cancer. Eugene and A.J. had a tumultuous relationship in recent years, nearly ending their friendship after a drunken argument three years ago. But A.J. runs into Eugene's ex-wife and is told Eugene wants to see him up at the cabin, which is really just a jumble of pieces (including an old school bus Eugene and A.J. stole in their wild high school days). Not one to hold a grudge, A.J. decides to go and while there finds out about Eugene's cancer (and Eugene's expectation that A.J. will help him die before the pain gets too bad).
While the premise of this book may sound a little heavy, Atkins is able to add some levity to the situation and give us a well-rounded view of A.J.'s life and friendship with Eugene. We also learn about many secrets in their past and we meet a whole cast of lovable Southern characters. I would recommend this book solely for its ability to poke fun at Southern living while also endearing us to such a life.
As the book moves forward we watch Eugene's quick deterioration due to his illness and we see his life go full circle. We're introduced to Johnny Mack, Termite, Brickhead, Wormy and Hoghead - some of the colorfully named characters in the book (with colorful lives as well). Atkins is a natural storyteller, making the scenes unfold with wonderful descriptions and well placed humor.
I'm not certain this would be a book for everyone, but I quite enjoyed reading it. It has been awhile since I've read a book that so fully captured my attention that I wasn't able to put it down until the end. For that alone, I give this book my star of approval. And I'm looking forward to Atkins' next book, which is due out next year.
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