Ray Blackston's first novel told the story of one-time stockbroker Jay Jarvis and missionary Allie Kyle, whose charms led Jay first to her side, then to the Lord, and finally to the jungles of Ecuador to join her mission site. Intertwined with their slow love story was the tale of church-hopping single South Carolingians, all loosely led on a beach vacation by surfer dude Ransom and his toothsome wife Jamie (the only couple in either book allowed more than chaste kisses). Blackston now has a second novel out, A DELIRIOUS SUMMER, and as promised, many of the same characters appear again in this book.
Jay and Allie are not center stage this time, although they do figure prominently in the book's second half (more on that shortly). This time around (the story here takes place the following summer), the protagonist is Neil Rucker, a missionary on furlough from Ecuador, where one of the least-promising students in his Spanish class was Jay Jarvis. Neil, who doesn't quite believe he's a missionary because he "just teaches," is both footloose and an orphan; he isn't quite sure where he should land once on the more familiar ground of the United States. Jay, whose instincts are better than his language skills, convinces Neil to try Greenville, SC and sets him up with a church singles group --- Steve as his roommate, Darcy of the lime-green Cadillac convertible and Alexis of the silver piercings as his "bait." (Several characters and Blackston are really into fishing, so it's no surprise that male-female goings-on in this book sometimes feel like a session with lures, tackle and reels.)
Blackston has brought his inimitable and delightful humor back to this novel. While most of the action revolves around the Presbyterians, no denomination is left unskewered. For example, a Methodist service is described as "a sermon and some hymns and some protocol," an Episcopalian service as "a sermon and some hymns and some ceremony," and a Pentecostal service as "a sermon and some hymns and some aerobics." Blackston doesn't take religious trappings too seriously, and neither do the Ladies of the Quest, Greenville's young single women trolling for potential husbands: they will attend any church so long as the single male pickings are good. When they're not, these supposedly innocent maidens move on to the next --- and the next, and the next (you might get Jell-O salad with the Baptists, croissants with the Episcopalians, and pudding with the Lutherans --- it really is potluck in Greenville).
The plot goes something like this: Neil takes his furlough in Greenville, begins to meet and greet the various young ladies of the Quest, and bonds with his fellows in the singles group. They take another beach vacation, which involves a long, hot trip in Darcy's Caddy and some annoyances along the way that bond Neil and Alexis, who recognize each other as kindred spirits. Neil also bonds with the frick-and-frack team of Maurice and Asbury on the latter's boat, and take an unforgettable fishing trip that serves mainly to introduce some characters who will aid Jay and Allie's Ecuadorian mission during a hard time.
If I don't spend a great deal of time on the story, that's because it seems less important than Blackston's detailed, unique characters --- and because what seems most important about these characters is that they build community. Whether they're in a South American city, the rainforest, on a beach or in a parish hall, they take each other as they are and find ways to love each other. What could be more Christian --- no matter what denominational stripes are donned --- than that?
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on November 13, 2011