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Handling Sin

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,567 ratings  ·  251 reviews
This rollicking odyssey sweeps across the South, as a reluctant Quixote-like North Carolinian is forced on an uproarious quest by his eccentric runaway father. Malone is the acclaimed author of Foolscap.
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published January 1st 1986 by Little Brown and Company
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A surprising and delightful read. It goes down like an old fashioned, satirical adventure novel such as “Don Quixote” crossed with an absurd cross-country road trip as in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” or a comedy starring Peter Sellars.

The set-up is nicely done in the preface and first chapter:
There lived in the piedmont of North Carolina a decent citizen and responsible family man named Raleigh Whittier Hayes, who obeyed the law and tried to do the right thing. He had a wife and two daughters… E
This is a GREAT book! You know how so many well-written contemporary books are so angst-ridden? It's like you can't write a complex, literary kind of work unless your main character is from some other country reflecting on horrible events that ended up isolating him or her from all other people (except, perhaps, for cold, angsty love affairs)and now, in America, reflects on the failure of the American dream.

Yeah, this book is every bit as complex, literary, and well-written as those books, but
I just finished this and laughed the whole way through... Malone's great for a comic read, and this is my favorite of his so far. Why isn't he more popular? And someone please make this movie, although I know the chances aren't great I'll like it. But I love the potential of a great movie based on "Handling Sin." Someone? Anyone?
Reading this book was like a love affair that quietly grew and caught me by surprise. At first I laughed out loud and found the book very amusing, but wondered why it was going to take the author 540 pages to finish the story. I had categorized the book as a Good-Ol'-Boy Road Trip. The Odyssey fueled by grits and racism. The book is very well written and laugh-out-loud funny, but I was at least halfway through it before I realized that I really cared for the whole absurd collection of characters ...more
I started this book nearly thirty years ago and never finished. I am so glad that I returned to it now. If I was ever going to return to writing, this is the sort of book I would like to write. It's got a bit of everything except graphic sex or violence, not to say sex and violence are not there, they just aren't the raw version we see in other novels these days. In bygone years, the book would be described as picaresque, nowadays I think they call it a "road trip" novel. Throughout the tone cha ...more
I feel like I should have liked this more, but I wanted it to end after 400 pages. The background, hisory and irony are meticulous and I found a lot of the scenes quite funny. It reminded me of Peter DeVries. I read a bunch of his books in the 80s. Unfortunately, I couldn't help myself wondering why they didn't keep in touch with cell phones!

Are the stereotypes there to point out stereotyping? Gluttonous fat guy with heart of gold; wizened old black housemaid; uptight white insurance man; black
Megan Baxter
This is an exuberant, raucous, Drunkard's Walk of a book. It's the kind of book words like exuberant and raucous were coined to describe. And I loved it.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
At my last job, my co-workers saw the title and clerical collar on the cover of this book and assumed I was a religous zealot.


This is one of my all-time favorite books. It takes a bit to get into it, but once the characters hit the road you won't be able to put it down. Oh, Mingo Schetfield!
Because this book is so determined to be sweet, how could I not love it? But I didn't. It has a lot going for it: the dialogue is catchy, much of the humorous dialogue was actually funny (though note that I didn't laugh out loud once)* the settings are well rendered, and its regular forays into reflection were wistful and honest, though straying into heavy handed commentary from time to time.
Yet my overall experience of the book felt like a chore: the premise was over-determined, the plot overwr
Jim Gibson
Can somebody tell my why this book isn't really famous? It should be. Because it's wonderful in every respect. I'm re-reading it, finding it even funnier the second time, and marveling at how Malone kees all those balls in the air without dropping a single one. He's a master.

And here's the thing. The book isn't just a meandering Southern picaresque ramble through the South, with all the requisite Southern types---it's ultimately a serious book treating a serious subject.

It really doesn't get b
Out of the thousands of books I've read, so many I can't even remember half because I didn't keep a list then, this one stands blazingly out from amongst those long forgotten. I never forgot this one. Cliched as it might sound, Michael Malone had me laughing out loud, (all alone, by myself) with this one. It also has great heart, you'll laugh and cry. I have given this book away as a gift more than any other book, that's how much I enjoyed it. A wonderful tale from start to finish. Not for the p ...more
Jeff Howe
I really loved this book. It has a great cast of characters, is extremely inventive and oftentimes laugh out loud funny. I couldn't put it down but hated to finish it! I'd highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it and I know I'll be rereading it again in the not too distant future.
Carolyn Zeller
This book is hilarious, sort of like watching Chevy Chase in European Vacation only much wilder. Lots of crazy laughs in this fabulous epic comic. My husband and I both have it on the Kindle. The characters and language are a tour de force. My husband and I read and laugh together. We think it should be a movie and Billy Crystal can be Weeperberg. Eddie Murphy can be Kingstreet and maybe John Goodman can be Mingo. John Ham (Madmen) can be Raleigh. A young George Clooney can be Gates. Hahahahaha. ...more
I'm in the 200-pager club. I can't stand the main character- he doesn't seem to even know his wife & kids. I'm guessing he's like Scrooge & will end up being a person, but the route to get there is way too circuitous for me!!!
Amy Malone
Disclaimer - my husband is a Michael Malone, but he's not Catholic and he didn't write this book. Nonetheless, despite a certain bias on my part, Handling Sin is a rollercoaster ride, a more modern version of Travels with My Aunt crossed with some Carl Hiaasen mayhem. You know, staid middle-aged man introduced to mystery, adventure, and all-around real living by a wackadoo older relative. Try it, you might like it.

Quote: "Some rare, fragile, lucky - unparalleled lucky - fluke or grace had given
Lucia Williams
Possibly the best book I've ever read. I laughed out loud and cried in equal amounts. The writing style is different to any other book I've read and it took me a few pages to get it - in fact I almost gave up but I'm so glad I didn't. It's clever, intelligent, and so funny. And a great reminder that life is for living. There are too many topics to cover about why it's such a good read - religion, racism, health, family, joy, hate - this is a book I would read again and I never do that.
Elizabeth Jennings
Another reviewer said the word raucous was coined to describe books such as this, and I couldn't agree more. It is one of the few books I've read that literally made me laugh until tears came. It could be because I'm from Piedmont Carolina myself, and Malone simply NAILS it.....

So I'm not sure how to recommend this book to folks outside the South, but if you are Southern and like a comic, irreverent, RAUCOUS look at life, you need to go get this book already!
Jeff Deck
This is a pretty impressive achievement as both an extended comedic adventure and a critique of and love letter to the South. It IS far too long. At 650 pages, even the funniest comedy would wear out its welcome. And it starts off on the slow side. But once the road is hit for a grand journey, an odyssey even, the book comes into its full flower. There are truly hilarious and touching moments in here.
Jul 18, 2008 Lisa rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one!
Recommended to Lisa by: I'll keep his name anonymous!
I give up. I almost always finish books, but life is too short and this bad book is keeping me from reading good books. I read about 1/3 of it (200 pages!) and do not like it. The main character is constantly annoyed (for good reasons) and that made me annoyed. I wanted to like it because the reviews are amazing and it was highly recommended by a friend, but I dislike it and am moving on!
Great story told alternately with ham-fisted broadness and awesome grace - Handling Sin is a frustrating read. The story that it tells about class, race, and humanist self-realization is a powerful one, but the manner in which it is told does not always do it service. Its characters too often become caricatures; its comedy is very broad slapstick that does not work; its plot has unnecessary contrivances and asides; and it relies upon too many convenient coincidences. However, passages and chapte ...more
This is totally hilarious southern literature. I have been wondering if it's so funny to me because of my experience living among southern culture, or if it would be just as funny to someone who had never experienced southern culture. It's a riot of a read though, keeps you on the edge of your seat and is a good adventure.
Jane Niehaus
This book was hilarious--had me laughing out loud, and eager to get back to it. An escapade with amazing characters, lots of action--it's a pleasure to read. It's 5 stars for me--but is it one of the greatest books of all times? No. I'm realizing I need to rate for my enjoyment--which was great.
Dec 21, 2007 Amanda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
The funniest book I've ever read. While it's terribly cliched to say so, this book really did make me laugh and make me cry. READ THIS BOOK.
The story of a man whose orderly, controlled life is torn every which way to pieces in a few short weeks, this 'road' book covers an amazing amount of ground.
Arwen Downs
I just re-read this book a few weeks ago, and forgot the delightful characters and ridiculous plot. Perhaps it is only for those who hold Southern fiction close to their hearts, but I have begun following in my father's footsteps and reading the prologue aloud to anyone who will listen.
What I learned from this book: Southern people suck. Also, Southern people rule. If this book doesn't make you want to live for a while in a small town in the South, well, then you're probably a sensible person, admittedly, aware of the high cost of relocation in a bad economy.
I loved this book. It had me laughing out loud.The characters are well developed and thoughtful. It is well written Souther lit with a zany twist -- sort of reminded me of Carl Hiaasen.
I loved this book when it first came out and love it still. The wonderfully Quixotic quest which Raleigh Hayes' father sets for him is as fresh and funny as it was 25 plus years ago. Earley, the father, a defrocked priest, has run away from the hospital and, having emptied his bank account and purchased a yellow Cadillac convertible, is last seen in the company of a young African American woman, heading for New Orleans. He leaves a recorded message for Raleigh giving him a series of baffling ass ...more
Dale Barlow
given to me by my departing (to Charleston, SC) friend, Stephen, who says I “taught him so much about how to handle sin” (not sure if that’s a compliment or not). While the hysterical parts are REALLY hysterical, it would be my assessment that taking out the very long descriptors and cutting this massive book in half would have made it a wonderful book. Had I not run out of reading material while on vacation (Hawai’i) I doubt I would have finished it—as it was I cut short the very long descripti ...more
I can't get over all the things that happened to this fellow - so funny! I love Raleigh's personality. The dad character really irked me, like he was so righteous because he was "authentic" and could teach Raleigh how to lighten up, pew. Otherwise, so many times I laughed out loud. Love that.

Favorite bits:
"Her name was Aura, and, as a result, her sensible, if somewhat cryptic, remarks struck others as having a mystical elusiveness."

"Raleigh's commitment to the managerial power of the will was su
This book made me laugh many times. The story centers on our hero, Raleigh Whittier Hayes who is sent by his dying father on a quest of collecting an odd assortment of items and even a few people along the way from Thermopylae, North Carolina to New Orleans. Earley Hayes checks himself out of the hospital in the beginning and everyone, including the serious minded Raleigh and his Aunt Victoria think he's really gone even further off the deep end. Once the quest starts Raleigh and his hysterical, ...more
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Michael Malone is the author of ten novels, a collection of short stories, and two works of nonfiction. Educated at Carolina and at Harvard, he is now a professor in Theater Studies at Duke University. Among his prizes are the Edgar, the O. Henry, the Writers Guild Award, and the Emmy. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with his wife.
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