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Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and other Wily Characters    by Patricia McKissack & Andre Carrilho order for
Porch Lies
by Patricia McKissack
Order:  USA  Can
Schwartz & Wade, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Porch Lies, Patricia C. McKissack spins ten gemmed-with-humor short stories, with an exquisite two-parter at the end of the book. Begin with Change, featuring life insurance agent Mr. Jesse Primo, who breaks out with laughter when Mama Frances tries to pay her one-dollar premium with a hundred-dollar bill. He proceeds to share his story of when a younger Primo was a shoe-shiner at Benny's Barbershop. When Mingo Cass came in for a shine on his 'number eleven Stacy Adamses', he talked about his rodeo days. Primo tells of Mingo clipping others on phony bets. But there was one line in particular Mingo used often: 'all's I got is a hundred-dollar bill'. He bamboozled many folks with that line!

The Devil's Guitar stars high school Band Director James Bukka Black telling of his love of blues music, and how he taught himself to play guitar. Bukka wanted to become famous just like Robert Johnson, who played blues like honey flowing from a beehive at the local juke joint. Not old enough to be allowed inside, Bukka crept up close to the building to listen. Mama warned Bukka about the Devil's temptation and Mr. Johnson making a special deal concerning a particular guitar.

Aunt Gran and The Outlaws strikes a western note in Webb Hollow, 'an all-black community on the Tennessee-Arkansas border'. The teller was brought up by his great aunt Henrietta McClintock, known to all as Aunt Gran. After the Civil War, Members of the Knights of the White Gardenia were bent on stopping 'black folk from becoming citizens'. They burned down the school, and townsfolk kept rebuilding until funds ran out. Then a shyster paper mill company agent came into town to buy up all the properties. Many refused to sell, including spunky Aunt Gran, who convinced the famous outlaw James brothers to help out the townsfolk.

In By the Weight of a Feather, grocery-store owner Chester Marcus spins a spiffy yarn about a married couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. People said it wouldn't last when they wed, as Clovis (a car salesman 'by profession, and a slickster by design') had lived a wild life before he proposed to town sweetheart Mae June. Clovis had a heck of a dream the wedding eve, involving a courtroom where he faced the 'Honorable Will Hang You Jones', who made his decision based on a weight scale and feathers, with good deeds on the right side and misdeeds on the left. Was it a dream or not?

A Grave Situation, as told by Dr. Beatrice Perriman, honors wealthy Mis Crickett Thompson of Lynn Cove, TN. Word has it that she had 'enough money to start her own country'. Lincoln James Murphy came back to Lynn Cove, after a fifteen years absence. Some folks found him lovable, funny, and good-natured, yet to others he was a 'no-good hustler'. Lincoln became Mis Crickett's chauffeur. When the time came for Mis Crickett's passing, her attorney, Goodie Harken, wasn't handling her burial and behests as she requested. The shocker comes when Mis Crickett is discovered still alive!

The Best Lie Ever Told, narrated by Uncle Kyle Morgan, is a yarn about Dooley Hunter, who won the state fair 'liar's contest'. Dooley won a brand new tractor. and with just one sentence, too! In The Earth Bone and The King of the Ghosts, Wily Hancock purchased a run-down, haunted property in Shotgun Alley. He rented out the property to one couple after another, but none stayed for long. The desperate owner decided he'd give the house as a gift to anybody who could spend three consecutive nights in the dwelling. Along came Montgomery Red, just passing through town, an Afro-Native-American with knowledge of charms.

The most hilarious tale is Cake Norris Lives On, in two parts. Noble Cake Norris couldn't pass up a dare, and townsfolk had twenty-seven versions of the ways he died, yet some believed he was still alive. His story begins, 'Say Noble Norris was a self-taught musician - the first to perfect the blues harmonica. None better in the world. I tell you! He was so good, even Death let him slide - or so the story goes.' In one account (after one of his deaths), Cake appears at the Pearly Gates, asking angel Roscoe 'Am I dead?' 'Forevermore', replies Roscoe, assigning Cake to station #75 as he explains the system - 'Over 50 are upward bound ... under 50 go the other way.' It's a heavenly story, and then some!

While Andre Carrilho's full-page, willowy-sketched, black-and-white illustrations (part-cartoon and part-portrait silhouettes) portray realistic characters, McKissack shares memories of childhood in Author's Notes. Memories of Whippoorwills, lightning bugs, homemade peach ice cream, and the all-important porch swing, where she could read for hours, or listen to abundant stories, or porch lies as they were called. All of the compositions are spellbinding. At the beginning of each, McKissack sets the scene by describing the porch visitor who first related the tale when she was a child. Porch Lies is a read for any and all ages - don't miss it.

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