Following the national success of Ella Minnow Pea, this second novel from Mark Dunn brings the same charm and love of good language to a small town in the South. A Robert Altmanesque comedy, Welcome to Higby follows the hilarious goings-on in a small town in northern Mississippi over Labor Day weekend. From mousy Carmen Valentine, whose guardian angel, Arnetta, gives her penny-pinching shopping tips, to addled old Hank Grammar, who preaches Jesus to his neighbors' pets, Higby's townsfolk have a knack for getting into -- and trouble getting out of -- outrageous situations. Blessed with an unerring eye for dead-on details, Dunn lovingly traces the eccentric and touching lives of his characters, offering an intelligent yet heartwarming vision of life in small-town America. Welcome to Higby is a Southern comical tale about simple dreams both realized and thwarted by all the complexities of the human heart.
Welcome to Higby 1. Look at the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. How do they affect your experience of the book? Do you need to be familiar with the Bible to "get" the meaning of the quote both in and out of the context of Welcome to Higby? Why? 2. Who is the central character of Welcome to Higby? Why? What connects the characters? What archetypes do the characters represent? What is author Mark Dunn telling us about life when Euless inherits a huge fortune? 3. What are the themes of the novel? Were they a surprise to you or what you expected from the beginning? 4. Why do people believe in guardian angels? Why does Carmen? On page 194, what is happening in the story that allows Carmen to say good-bye to hers? Consider Carmen's car crashing into Euless's. Could it have been caused by her guardian angel? Why do you think the crash happens? What is the result of the crash? 5. At the beginning of Welcome to Higby, why does Clint go up the water tower? Share whether or not you agree with Ponce's take on Clint's climbing, that it "'has nothing to do with adventure'" (page 48), and why. What, if any, is the significance of Clint's falling into a pool? 6. Looking at Chapters 1 through 18, do you have an idea about the race of the characters? What clues does the author provide? Is race important to the story? Why? 7. Thinking about Oren's and Ponce's friendship -- one a preacher, the other an atheist -- discuss Ponce's comments to Oren on page 76 that God might be a crutch that "had not served all that useful a purpose anyway." Why could Oren's belief in God be a crutch? Why is Oren more ready to hear this now rather than earlier? 8. Share your reaction to Talitha's predicament when she signed a contract with the Brothers and Sisters of Redemption. Do you know enough about Talitha to say whether or not she might benefit from such a group? What is the role of this group in Welcome to Higby? 9. Looking at the character's names throughout Welcome to Higby, why do you think Mark Dunn chose them? How do they reflect or reveal the individual's personality or persona? Discuss what other methods Mark Dunn uses to lay out this story. For example, consider how short chapters affect the story and the reader, and that most chapters begin with a character's name. What are the reasons, if any, for this? 10. In Chapter 42, Oren thinks about being both a father and a minister. Why does he say that these are two of the toughest and most thankless jobs in the world? Discuss whether or not you agree with Oren that Clint doesn't want or need a father, and why. Do you believe that Oren is thinking more about his own feelings than those of his son? Why? 11. Why does Hank have labels on his things (Chapter 49)? What is it about this that makes Tula cry? What is the symbolism of Hank's bassoon? 12. What drives Stewie to go get drunk after he talks to his pastor (page 279)? Should Stewie have been kicked out of the church? Is it an "accident of fate" that brought Stewie to hear Jeannie Plough sing the day after their one night stand? 13. In Chapter 68, both Stewie and Clint climb the water tower. What does the tower represent? Discuss the events on and around the tower on that stormy night, and why you believe Dunn places these two men on the structure at this particular time. What is the symbolism of the lightning striking both the tower and the steeple of Calvary United Christian Church? 14. Looking at Welcome to Higby's structure and language, including its short chapters, vivid descriptions, and abundant dialogue, how is it like a stage play? How does this story work better as a novel?
Mark Dunn is the author of Ella Minnow Pea, a winner of the Borders Original Voices Award, a finalist for the Book Sense Book of the Year, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers title. He has written twenty-five plays and is currently the playwright-in-residence with the New Jersey Repertory Company and Community Theatre League in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Originally from Memphis, he now resides with his wife in Greenwich Village.
Leif Enger author of Peace Like a River Mark Dunn is a wry eyewitness along the lines of James Wilcox or Larry McMurtry; Welcome to Higby is as farcical as Modern Baptists, as winning as Texasville. Impish and forgiving, here is a writer who observes the commandment: Thou shalt love thy characters. And they pay him back in buckets.
Paula Friedman The Miami Herald Dunn uses human peculiarity in the service of creating empathy, conjuring an atmosphere of wise affection in the process. The small town of Higby, with its accidents, fortuitous encounters, and zany coincidences, offers life at its most ordinary and its most extraordinary.
Colleen Kelly Warren St. Louis Post-Dispatch Every single one of [Dunn's] characters are just so darn likable, and the author's view of humanity so essentially generous, that the reader is gradually sucked into Higby....Welcome to Higby is good-hearted fun.
Pat MacEnulty, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL) Dunn's careful imbedding of humor has an organic quality that turns the book into a real page-turner, not so much to find out what happens but to see what surprising gem you'll find on the next page.
USA Today [H]umor and human sentiment quickly hook the reader into taking up residence. A three-day weekend in Higby isn't long enough.