The Flabbergasted Trilogy: The Perfect Summer Read as We Go Back to the Beach
A Book Review
For the first time in what seems like eons people are finally starting to safely return to the beaches this summer, and beaches demand books to read. But after you’ve frolicked in the ocean in the morning and before the serious drinking starts around midday you want something light to read; there’s a reason you don’t see a lot of Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace lying on the blankets next to the suntan lotion. This situation demands something funny but not mindless, preferably with a beach setting thrown in, and I have just the books for you.
I say books because today I’m recommending the Flabbergasted Trilogy by Ray Blackston. Don’t let the trilogy part deter you; we’re not talking The Lord of the Rings here. You’ll be finished with all three books in the same amount of time it takes Frodo to get out of the freaking Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring.
(Please be aware that the links to books mentioned below are affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links).
The first book, and the one from which the trilogy takes its name, is Flabbergasted. It was released in 2003 and was Blackston’s debut novel. Prior to taking the leap into full-time writing he had been a stockbroker in his home state of South Carolina, so if nothing else at least he got his soul back.
Flabbergasted is set in Greenville, South Carolina (Blackston clearly writes what he knows), and the characters are far more vividly drawn than in most of the beach reads you’ll come across. The narrator is recent transplant Jay Jarvis, and we follow the exploits of Jay and his new friends as they navigate the Greenville singles scene. There are no bars or dating apps here, though; this group of lovable miscreants goes looking for love by, I kid you not, visiting the Singles’ Sunday School classes of Greenville’s many churches (the city has more churches than bars anyway).
I should say at this point that if you look up Flabbergasted on Amazon you will see that it is listed in three of their plethora of categories: “Humorous American Literature,” “American Humorous Fiction,” and “Contemporary Christian Fiction.” It’s this last one that deserves further comment, because I don’t want you to dismiss the book out of hand.
I think we can all agree that the vast majority of so-called Christian fiction is total crap. It’s typically either 400 pages of bonnets and longing looks (the Amish Romance novel subcategory), a long sermon disguised as a novel, or just a really bad piece of fiction with the word “Jesus” inserted every ten pages. This last type sells because while many Pentecostals love to read, even the Amish Romance is denied them in their quest for salvation.
Flabbergasted is none of these. In fact, I was halfway through the book before I even realized it was what many would classify as Christian fiction. It touches on some Christian themes, but in a way so subtle, humorous, and decidedly un-preachy that churches should use it as a guidebook on how to conduct themselves in public.
From women church-hopping in search of husbands to missionaries with a habit of throwing food at people to a wacky beach weekend, it’s a well-told story with some seriously interesting characters, not a hellfire-and-brimstone screed disguised as a novel. And if you’ve ever lived in the Deep South as I have, it will make you both nostalgic and glad you escaped at the same time.
The second book in the series is A Delirious Summer. The premise is similar to Flabbergasted, but with a twist. The narrator this time is Neil Rucker, a missionary on furlough for the summer looking for love in the wilds of South Carolina, where he meets many of the same folks Jay Jarvis met in the first book. He quickly finds that Carolina beaches may be more dangerous than the Amazon jungle, and watching this young man try to navigate the Greenville social scene is a lot of fun. Allie, Darcy, and Alexis form one of the most hilarious (if sometimes dangerous) trios since Charlie’s Angels (the 70s TV version, not the movies). I liked this one best out of the three.
The final novel in the series is Lost in Rooville, and in all honesty it’s here that Blackston falls a little flat. For much of the book the main characters are lost in the Australian Outback and while the book is entertaining, moving the setting away from South Carolina hurts the story somewhat. We do get to see the resolution of the myriad relationships that started in the first two novels however, and when combined with familiar and likable characters the book wraps the trilogy up quite nicely.
So if you’re looking for a fun beach read this summer (whether you’re heading to the beach or not), check out the Flabbergasted Trilogy. You’ll never look at dating the same way again.
First published on Medium.com.