LSU Press 2015
A darkly insightful evocation of the post-industrial era, Joy, PA tells the story of a family teetering on the precipice of ruin. The Augenbaughs live in a broken and decaying town where the last vestiges of country-club wealth run up against the terrible realities of working-class poverty. Abigail, a fervent believer in the apocalyptic teachings of a radio preacher, is desperate to save her son from Judgment Day as she readies herself for the Rapture—due to arrive in just a few days. Her husband, Burns, has moved to the basement to live out his days in a medicated stupor, unable to cope with memories of his service in Iraq. Caught between the suffering of his mother and father, ten-year-old Willie fights the inherited demons that have savaged his parents’ tenuous grasp on reality.
The somber drama surrounding the Augenbaughs plays out with a piercing and commanding lyrical beauty. Both transfixing and disconcerting, Steven Sherrill’s empathetic portrait of alienation elicits hope and sympathy amidst shattered but no-less-dignified lives.
Praise for Joy, PA
“Steven Sherrill writes like Cormac McCarthy on speed: beautiful short sentences create a breathless suspense, in which I as a reader, although a skeptic, experience the impending Apocalypse. The anticipation of the end drives several protagonists into a frenzy and acts of violence, rendered poetically into a wonderful and terrifying painting, Goya in the blood-rusted Bible Belt.” —Josip Novakovich, author of Infidelities and April Fool’s Day
Joy, PA– desperately sad but feverishly readable. This story of a troubled family and a broken community has compassion in its hammering heart and poetry in its bleak prose. The world will end in three days, and Abigail Augenbaugh needs to be ready. So she prays, distributes leaflets and ignores her cynical workmates. Her family have their own myths to cling to. Her husband, Burns, spends his days asleep and his nights bathing in the light of pornography videos and a PlayStation golf game, dreaming of a pretty pharmacist and a war he barely fought. Their son William inhabits a comic-book world in which he is able to move through the streets unseen and destroy his enemies. He has no friends, skips school, wears whatever dirty clothes he can find and eats what he can scavenge. Joy, PA is a desperately sad book that could make you want to crawl into a ditch and stay there. But instead it drags the reader with feverish energy through a few days that see the Augenbaughs’ fractured existence blown apart. It’s a portrait of a failing town, too: Joy, Pennsylvania may boast rich country-clubs and SUVs, but its economy is slumping and its community broken. This is rarely an enjoyable read, but there’s compassion in its hammering heart and poetry in its bleak, relentless prose. —The Guardian
“In phantasmagoric, almost delirious prose, Steven Sherrill writes from a distinctly southern perspective, from a landscape that is rendered credulous and incredulous at once, as parody and earnest rendering, a psychic road map of contemporary dystopic America. Happily, there’s still a place for skewed prophetic voices the likes of Sherrill in American letters. A singular voice; there’s no one else like him on the literary landscape.”
—Robin Hemley, author of Reply All