The Cockroaches of Stay More, by Donald Harington – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Cockroaches of Stay More, by Donald Harington.
San Diego, CA, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, March 1989, hardcover $19.95 (337 pages).
“One time not too long ago on a beginning of night in the latter part of May, a middle-aged gent was walking homeward along the forest path from Roamin Road to the village of Carlott, behind Holy House in the valley of Stainmoor or Stay More. The six gitalongs that carried him were rickety, and there was a meandering to his gait that gave a whole new meaning to the word Periplaneta. This wanderer gave a smart nod, as if in agreement to a command, though no one had spoken to him yet. His wings were not folded neatly across his back and were neither tidy nor black but flowzy and brownish. Presently he was met by a plump parson whose wings were very black and long and trim like the tails of a coat, and who was humming a hymn, ‘The Old Shiny Pin.’
‘Morsel, Reverend,’ said the flowzy gent, and spat, marking his space.” (pg. 1)
Donald Harington was a prize-winning regional author who built his literary career on writing about the backwoods Ozark area of Arkansas. He specialized in the small rural communities that were never large to start with, and that have dwindled since to ghost towns; one of his best-known books is the non-fiction travelogue Let Us Build a City: Eleven Lost Towns (1986). He set more than ten novels in the fictional village of Stay More, Arkansas, chronicling its rise and decline over a hundred-and-fifty-year period. All except this one have featured Stay More’s human inhabitants. In The Cockroaches of Stay More, it has become a complete ghost town except for two human recluses – and hundreds of cockroaches.
“’Tilt up yore jaws thataway, Squire, and let me look at yore face. Yes, that’s the Ingledew touchers and sniffwhips, I’d bet on ‘em, a little adulterated, ye might say, no harm meant, please sir. Why, you’re descended from ole Squire Jacob Ingledew hisself, the first roosterroach to set gitalong in this valley.’” (pg. 3)
Harington’s dialogue is rich in the dialect and slang of the Ozarks. His cockroaches have adopted the names of the humans who used to live in Stay More. The Ingledews were the social leaders, while the Dingletoons, Whittiers and others were the commoners. In this novel, the Ingledew cockroaches live in “Partheeny”, the Parthenon, the town’s former general store. The Dingletoons and others live in Carlott, a slum of bugs in the weeds and discarded human trash (including a stripped old Ford Fairlane) in the yard beside and behind what the roaches call “Holy House”. This old house where one of the two humans left in Stay More lives is a social halfway house between Carlott and the Parthenon; a popular spot with the roaches for its spilled food and beer, despite the danger of getting shot when the drunkard who lives there notices them:
“The bullets which Man fired to rapture the chosen Crustians always pierced the floor as well, the wall, the ceiling, a door, or a windowpane of the house, which was called Holy House because of all these holes. Each new hole created a new entrance for more roosterroaches, but it was not permissible for any ‘furrin’ roosterroaches to enter Holy House. Each hole also created drafts, and this past winter had been terrible, causing even Man Himself to take to stronger drink than beer. […] Our Man of Holy House, by contrast, bestowed upon the multitudes a great continuous feast of crusts and crumbs, to say nothing of the countless dregs of beer that kept most Holy Housers nearly as intoxicated as Man Himself. Brother Tichborne was old enough to observe that Man’s use of beer, and of the more poisonous bourbon, was increasing.” (pgs. 12-13)
The Cockroaches of Stay More is a bawdy novel; a combination of hillbilly human social customs and insect instincts. Roach dances and similar social events may start off decorously, but they invariably turn into orgies once the irresistible sex pheromones start filling the air. Despite the hellfire and brimstone sermonizing of Brother Chidioch Tichborne, Stay More’s self-appointed and only preacher, when males and females grab their nearest partners the result is likely to be incest. But almost all that any of the bugs are interested in is food and sex:
“The whole world was changed. The night was twelve shades of blue now, and thirteen shades of ultraviolet, and the air was beginning to fill with lightning bugs. Within range of Jack’s sniffwhips and eyes a lady lightning bug was perched upon the end of a blade of grass, testing and fine-tuning her lantern. Jack paid her no mind although his ocelli twitched at each neon flash of her summons. Choral groups of katydids were serenading in four-part harmony; here and there a cricket could be heard warming up his instrument of challenge, and in the distance sounded a background of countless Hylae peeping and piping.”
“The music of the night had its ominous overtones and also its discordant noises: somewhere nearby a huge nightcrawler worm was laboring noisily uphill with many shiftings of gears, backfirings, and faulty rumblings in its transmission. It was sending out signals: ‘BREAKER ONE OH. DO YOU READ? HOWBOUTCHA, BIG MAMA? UP THIS HUMP HUNTIN FOR BEAVER LOOKIN FOR A NAP TRAP AND GOTTA LOG SOME Z’S.’” (pgs 5-6)
“But instead, as very ill luck would have it, a centipede suddenly appeared, Scutigeria forceps, scooting forcibly up the trail in search of prey. This centipede, or Santa Fe, as they call it in the Ozarks, had only twenty-eight gitalongs, not a hundred, but its fangs were already dripping with the deadly poison that kills roosterroaches in an instant.” (pg. 8)
Brother Tichborne has invented the roach community’s Crustian religion, centered around the two human hermits who have come to the abandoned town. The Man who inhabits Holy House is their main deity. He feeds them, but He also raptures them with His gun whenever He feels like it. The Woman who lives in the Parthenon is a more mysterious figure, because the only cockroaches who share her home are the upper-class Ingledews, who do not invite other roaches in. Brother Tichborne is an aggressive sermonizer who hopes to convert most of the roosterroaches who have colonized the Holy House and will not let the riffraff of Carlott enter to share their bounty. Tichborne’s real goal is to become the social leader of Stay More, and to use his congregation to take over the imagined paradise of the Parthenon.
There are several main characters besides Brother Tichborne: Jack Dingletoon, an amiable drunkard whom Brother Tichborne schemes to use as a pawn to get himself into the Parthenon; Tish Dingletoon, Jack’s innocent daughter who is romantically attracted to both Squire Sam Ingledew and Brother Tichborne’s son Archy; Sam Ingledew, the shy last scion of a prestigious family who is handsome but almost totally deaf; and Doc Swain, the community’s physician, a diehard agnostic. Over the course of the novel the reader will realize who the Man and the Woman really are.
The first half of the novel sets up the roosterroaches’ social community. When the Man, in a drunken frenzy of rapturing the roaches crawling around his spilled food, accidentally shoots himself; and it is learned that the Woman is a health fanatic who kills roaches on sight, there is a crisis of faith that shakes up and revolutionizes Stay More’s roaches. Harington gets overly cute in the last half with too many extreme changes, including the introduction of Hoimon, the Great White Mouse (an albino lab rat with a thick Brooklyn accent); and having the roaches try to communicate with other humans to summon medical help for the Man. But all in all, The Cockroaches of Stay More is an imaginative and clever tale with a unique anthropomorphic viewpoint. You will learn more about how cockroaches have sex than you ever wanted to know.