Grady, the boy from the title, tells his story in a dialect reminiscent of the rural American South. To Rogers' credit, he maintains the dialect throughout the narrative, and coming from Grady and the other characters, the language sounds natural and unaffected. (Warning to parents: if you're hoping your children will learn sound grammar and diction from reading this book, they won't, but they might pick up a truth or two about human nature.) Grady's voice is infectious and works with his innocent honesty to endear him to the reader. Consider the following paragraph from the opening chapter:
I don't care who you are--when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else's word for it. That's where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud (p. 2).
That's the crux of the story: who is Grady; where did he come from; who are his parents? Grady desperately wants answers to those questions and he dreams of having a proper home with loving parents. Instead, Grady has Floyd, the charlatan from the title. Grady's earliest memories are riding in Floyd's wagon. Floyd has told Grady many stories about his early life. In one version, Floyd says that he found Grady crying under a palmetto bush and took pity on him. Grady finds it hard to believe that Floyd would take pity on anyone. In a crueler story, Floyd claims to have bought Grady from a circus man, mistaking him for a monkey. Floyd tells another story in which Grady's mother gives the boy to Floyd because he's too ugly to keep. By most standards, Grady is ugly. He is short and wiry with close set eyes, one blue and one green. He has a single eyebrow stretching across his forehead and his small ears stick straight out. His weak chin is difficult to distinguish from his neck. Grady looks much like everyone's idea of a Feechie and according to Grady, "If you want to know the truth, I'm pretty sure that's why Floyd kept me" (p. 3).
At the start of the novel, Floyd and Grady are making their living from the Feechie-trade. They travel from village to village, putting on a show in which Grady stars as a genuine he-feechie and Floyd charges people a few coppers hear a lecture about the times he spent in the swamps with the Feechies. Floyd proves masterful at working a crowd and Grady plays the part of a Feechie to perfection. However, people eventually stop believing in Feechies, and Floyd has to come up with a different scam. Grady came to think of himself as a Feechie while they performed the Feechie shows and later looked back fondly on the feechie-trade as "honest" work. Floyd's next idea is to parade Grady around as the ugliest boy in the world and bet villagers that they do not have an uglier boy living in their village. This works until they meet a boy in a mining town that beats Grady for ugliness. They next try phrenology and do quite well. As Grady understands, the key to being a charlatan is reading people and Floyd is a master at it. He makes very educated guesses about people's traits and what they want to hear. The phrenology business comes to an end when an angry customer destroys their equipment. Grady tells a father the truth about a prospective son-in-law who is only interested in the daughter's dowry and tries to bribe Grady for a favorable reading. After trying some less than successful schemes, Floyd hits on a new idea, a grand scheme to bring back the good old days of the Feechie-trade. Floyd concocts a plan to create his own Feechie scare. They create arrows and spears from flint and a noise-maker that bellows like a swamp monster. The idea is to make strange noises in the forests and swamps near villages and shoot "Feechie" arrows in the sides of houses and barns. Floyd believes that if enough people talk about Feechies, people will start believing in Feechies, and he and Grady can return to the Feechie-trade. The plan works. The Feechie scare takes hold but with consequences that neither Floyd nor Grady could ever imagine.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Charlatan's Boy from the publisher.
To learn more about the Jonathan Rogers, visit his website at http://jonathan-rogers.com/.
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