Walking Across Egypt (1997)

by Clyde Edgerton

Mattie Rigsbee, a 78-year-old widow in a North Carolina town, thinks she's slowing down and can't take in the stray dog that's hanging around her backdoor. But calling the dogcatcher brings a more troublesome stray into her life — the dogcatcher's juvenile delinquent nephew, Wesley Benfield. Taking seriously the biblical injunction to love "the least of my brethren," Mattie tries to help Wesley, outraging the brethren at her church and convincing her two adult children that she's going senile.

Mattie's character is well drawn and rounded.
A model of Southern hospitality, she feeds everyone who comes to her door. She worries about what people will think if they see dirty dishes in her sink but not if they see her harboring an escapee from the juvenile detention center. Fifteen-year-old Wesley needs a home, but Mattie — who can't understand why her son, age 42, and daughter, age 38, haven't married and given her grandchildren — needs something from him, too.

Walking  Across Egypt, the title of a hymn that Clyde Edgerton also wrote, is a simple, heartwarming novel that stops short of being smaltzy. It is appropriate for teens as well as adults.


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