If the short story collections of John Cheever and Flannery O'Connor had a love child, it would be The Beasts of Belladonna. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, Gilbert Allen's collection of fifteen linked stories explores every corner of the suburbanized foothills of South Carolina.
Belladonna--a gated community with Tuscan architectural covenants--boasts a championship golf course, compulsory three-car garages, faux cobblestone sidewalks, and a lively assortment of cats, dogs, birds, deer, goldfish, and spider monkeys. Its human inhabitants include a skeptical high-school biology teacher and his stubbornly devout Methodist wife; a 300-pound biracial woman determined to lose weight; the county's self-appointed Pavement Imperfection Coordinator; the state's first African American optometrist; a sociopathic TV reporter and her would-be savior (a young minister from Southern California nicknamed Jesus of Malibu); and a Guatemalan housekeeper tormented by her evangelical employer's cat.
Although you won't find Belladonna on any map, you might have already encountered its past, present, and future in Allen's previous collection, The Final Days of Great American Shopping, which Ron Rash praised as "a delightful collection whose interrelated stories give the pleasure of a novel."
And The Beasts of Belladonna is even better.