Now that’s a story. My favorite of the year so far, I think. As protagonists go, Julian Smith is not very likable (proof, in my book, that likability isn’t an important factor). He is a typewriter repairman (someone has to be, I suppose, even in the day of computers, because the writers aren’t yet completely without purpose) who is proud of his heritage, even though his only connection to that heritage was his arrogant, pretentious mother. Still, when he inherits the family mansion (it’s the Godhigh family, which couldn’t be any further removed from the Smiths, and Julian plans to change his name when he gets a chance) and a little money, he moves to Mississippi from Memphis. He discovers a rundown mess that he’s determined to restore to glory, and to that end he hires Obie Parker to help, because Julian can’t fix anything other than a typewriter.
Obie is a good deal more likable than Julian, but he’s got one problem. He’s covered with tattoos, “idols,” that he has to have removed in order to reunite with his religious wife. That’s why he’s working for Julian, and all his money goes to tattoo removal. But then Julian’s money runs out, Obie’s tattoos are gone, and so is he. Until catastrophe strikes the mansion, and Julian needs him.
Although Julian has changed in some ways, in others he hasn’t, and he ends up returning to Memphis worse off than he was before (he’s even lost his ancient car). Just as Obie had his idols, Julian had his—the house and his heritage, not to mention his precious typewriters. And while Obie intentionally removes his, Julian has his taken from him.
Best of the year. So far.
June 22, 2009: “Idols” by Tim Gautreaux
Edited (6/21/09): As noted in the comments, Julian in the story is, in fact, a character from Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge", and the stories should be read together.