Off for the Sweet Hereafter
That was the summer we lost the bald Jeeter who was not even mostly Jeeter anymore but was probably mostly Throckmorton or anyway was probably considered mostly Throckmorton which was an appreciable step up from being considered mostly Jeeter since Jeeters hadn't ever been anything much while Throckmortons had in fact been something once previously before the money got gone and the prestige fell away leaving merely the bluster and the taint and the general Throckmorton aroma all of which taken together hardly made for a legacy worth getting stirred up over but any one of which taken singly still outstripped the entire bulk of advancements ever attempted and realized by Jeeters who had scratched around in the dirt but were not much accomplished at farming and who had speculated in herds of cattle but were not much accomplished at speculating either and who at last had turned their energies to the construction of a henhouse which commenced ramshackle and got worse but became nonetheless the chief Jeeter advancement along with the hens and the little speckled brown eggs and the localized ammonia cloud which was itself most probably the primary Jeeter success though no particular Jeeter or group of Jeeters together actually contributed to it or could prevent it either so when the bald Jeeter, with the fat Jeeter as her maid of honor, exchanged vows with Braxton Porter Throckmorton III in the sanctuary of the Methodist church on Saturday June the twelfth, 1942, and afterwards set up house in Neely proper she got away from the hens and the henhouse and out from under the ammonia cloud which was most likely beginning to expand in June 1942 since it set in to expanding most every June and swelled straight through August and on into September, especially this past August and especially this past September when it was bearing down on the town limits and posing some threat to the icehouse which was regular and ordinary for the season, particularly in August and particularly in September, so we were having what had come to be our usual summer straight up to the moment Mr. Derwood Bridger laid his ladder against the Throckmorton clapboard and climbed to the upper story where he pressed his nose to the bedroom windowscreen and shaded his eyes and called and hollered and shrieked at the bald Jeeter until he was satisfied that she was gone from us for good.
This opening sets the stage for the rambling tone of the entire novel, which consists more of digressions than of straightforward plot.
Raeford Benton Lynch, nephew to the bald Jeeter, is a cipher, remarkable only for being gangly and horse-faced. On a whim, he accepts a job "digging holes" for Mr. Claude Ellwyn Overhill, who drives a motley assortment of riff-raff around the south, disinterring and relocating the denizens of graveyards that had to be moved to make room for development.
Benton Lynch meets Jane Elizabeth Firesheets when he and Mr. Overhill's crew disinter her grandmomma. Jane Elizabeth, for some inscrutable reason, takes a fancy to Benton Lynch, beguiling him with her "milky white parts" and "plum colored parts."
Trouble comes in the form of Jimmy, a petty criminal whose renegade nature lures Jane Elizabeth Firesheets away from Benton Lynch. In order to prove that he is as dangerous and ambitious—and thus as alluring—as Jimmy, Benton Lynch takes to holding up convenience stores and sending clippings about the crimes to Jane Elizabeth Firesheets. This wins her affections away from Jimmy, but has an unintended side effect: Jane Elizabeth Firesheets pictures herself as Bonnie to Benton Lynch's Clyde, and insists that the two take off on a crime spree that ends in the shooting of an elderly store clerk.
"Lemly had no industry whatsoever and little agriculture to speak of unless mildew counted for something."
"Black dirt's dirt. Yellow dirt's clay. Gray dirt's folks. Ain't a goddamn thing to it."