"I've been to the mountain; I've been to the valley," sings out L. Ray Flowers, the self-appointed preacher in Clyde Edgerton's latest novel, Lunch at the Piccadilly. "I've been to Mary; I've been to Sally. I've been to Peter; I've been to Paul. I've seen the river; I've seen the mall. Glory hallelujah."Hearing Flowers' unconventional sermonizing for the first time, Carl Turnage, the book's patient, pragmatic protagonist, falls under his charismatic spell. Flowers believes churches and nursing homes should join forces to take care of the elderly, and his energy and enthusiasm for "Nurches of America," as he calls his "born again" brainchild, helps him win recruits for his vision-turned-quest.
Edgerton is known for delivering quirky, thoroughly realistic characters, undeniably loveable despite their human frailties, and he comes through again in Lunch at the Piccadilly, assembling a memorable cast of residents at Rosehaven, the convalescence center where Carl's Aunt Lil has been admitted.
Lil, who has fallen twice in the bathtub, still wants to drive her 1998 Oldsmobile, still smokes and still has a few "life issues" to clear up before she meets her maker. Then there are her lady friends at Rosehaven: Mrs. Maudie Lowe ("Companies are going to take over the world, like Hitler. You mark my words"); Mrs. Beatrice Satterwhite ("Who pooted? Whew"); and Clara Cochran, the one with the glass eye ("First smeller is the feller. Whoever smelt it dealt it"). Last but not least is Darla Avery, who has something scandalous to say against their inspired new preacher friend, Flowers.
While there is a certain eccentric zaniness to Flowers and indeed to all the residents of Rosehaven, there is also a serious side. "Listen," Flowers says fervently. "Old people are still alive. Alive. Their corpuscles breathe and move like little tiny white things in tomato sauce. It's all any of us are given at the outset: life. It's all any of us lose: life."This swing back and forth between the comical and the profound is what keeps the subject matter aging, loss, watching the decline of a last living relative from becoming a morose tale and renders Lunch at the Piccadilly a heartwarming story full of humor and hope.