Bookshelf: Hapless male protagonists take divergent paths in two new novels

And a book for cinephiles who love cult movies.

This week’s Bookshelf is about a book on cult movies by a film curator from TCM and two new novels about lonely, forlorn men from very different social strata whose instincts lead them on different journeys.

Road warrior. Filled with quirky characters and told from multiple points of view, “The Hammerhead Chronicles” (University of North Georgia Press, $19.99) by Scott Gould tells the story of newly divorced Claude, who throws himself into cycling when his ex-wife, Peg, dies of cancer.

A lonely English professor living in small-town South Carolina, Claude is estranged from his daughter Marlene and spends his spare time in a dive bar called The Oorah, playing PBR poker with bartender LeJeune and his buddy Samuel — that is, until Claude slaps down a credit card he’s been saving for a rainy day and purchases the most expensive racing bike his credit limit will allow.

Rounding out the cast of characters is Peg’s prickly sister Cheryl, who nursed Peg until her death, and twin brothers Wade and Wallace, who run the local bookstore that only sells books by white authors and operate a secret, underground business selling Confederate materials.

Every chapter of “The Hammerhead Chronicles” is told from the voice of a different character, including Peg, who’s dead. Speaking directly to the reader, the characters tell their stories as if making a case for the roles they play in the acts of revenge and redemption that ensue.

Credit: Algonquin

Credit: Algonquin

Wrong place, wrong time. “I Am the Light of This World” (Algonquin, $27) by Michael Parker is a grittier tale. Set in 1973 Stovall, Texas, Earl is a music-loving loner who’s an outcast at home and high school. Things appear to look up when he befriends a freckled girl named Tina, until she suggests he drive her to Austin in his cousin’s car, despite the fact he doesn’t have a driver’s license.

Thinking the reason for their journey is to visit Tina’s mother in a mental health asylum, Earl is surprised when Tina directs him on a detour that ends at a big party house. Upon their arrival, Tina promptly pairs off with another man, and Earl smokes some marijuana that was much stronger than the “tiny-buzz-and-big-headache weed he stole from his brothers.”

The next thing Earl knows, he is in police custody for stealing a car and has no memory of the last couple days. But that’s not all. He’s under suspicion for Tina’s disappearance, and things don’t look good because there’s blood in the trunk of the car.

The mystery of what happened to Tina is slowly revealed as Earl’s memory returns, bit by bit, and it’s not pretty. Fast forward to 2018. Earl believes he’s finally put that disastrous chapter of his life behind him and is living a quiet life in Oregon. But once again, Earl finds himself in trouble, a victim of circumstances and bad choices.

Credit: Running Press

Credit: Running Press

So bad it’s good. Who doesn’t love a cult movie? I’m a fan. I spent my Friday night watching “The Christine Jorgensen Story,” which, despite its clunky script and old-fashioned production values (even for the ‘70s), was sweetly sincere … but I digress.

Perhaps no one loves cult movies as much as film curator Millie De Chirico, who programs “TCM Underground,” the cable channel’s Friday late-night show that features a different cult film every week. Recent offerings have included “Heathers,” “Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde” and “Prehistoric Women.”

Now De Chirico has co-authored, with Quatoyiah Murry, a companion book, “TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema” (Running Press, $24.99). Including a foreword by Patton Oswalt, the book highlights 50 weird and wacky films with photographs and essays containing historical context and tidbits of insider information, like, for instance, Martin Scorsese was briefly attached as director to the 1970 film “The Honeymoon Killers,” a fictional telling of the ‘40s-era “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez.

The movies are sectioned into chapters on crime, horror, social rebellion, family and “mind melters.” Many of the usual suspects are represented: “Wild Seed,” “Blacula,” “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” But there are plenty of lesser-knowns (to me, at least), like “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains,” a 1982 film directed by Lou Adler that starred Diane Lane and Laura Dern as spikey-haired punk rockers, and the 1978 thriller “Remember My Name,” about a violent love triangle between Anthony Perkins, Geraldine Chaplin and Berry Berenson, directed by Alan Rudolph.

De Chirico will give a reading and present clips of her favorite cult films at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Kennesaw State University in the Leadership Room of the Carmichael Student Center, 395 Cobb Ave., Kennesaw. 470-578-6280, 470-578-3122.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Contact her at svanatten@ajc.com.