Turner Publishing Co., Nashville, TN 2009
Reviewed by Penne J. Laubenthal
When the Buddha Met Bubba is best-selling author John Lee's (aka Richard "Dixie" Hartwell) first excursion into fiction writing, and what a trip it is. The novel is an amalgam of Siddhartha, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,The Glass Bead Game, and It's a Wonderful Life--only Clarence the angel is a pudgy beer drinking Buddha who loves women and likes his food southern fried.
Pu Tai (whom Bubba calls Pooh) appears to Bubba ( Billy Bob Coker) by way of a dilapidated, duct-taped (aka "Alabama chrome") suitcase in a back room of the Unclaimed Baggage store in Scottsboro, Alabama. Bubba, who has reached the end of his rope in more ways than one, lives in a room behind the unclaimed baggage store thanks to the generosity of the manager, Skeeter (his second cousin on his mother's side), for whom he works. Let me digress for a moment to say that if the reader notices a plethora of acronyms in this review, it is due to Pooh's penchant for acronyms. He calls The Wise Ones the TWOS.
Thus begins a hilarious and entrancing romp to enlightenment of a down and out guy from Sand Mountain, who missed his high school graduation because he was getting married-- at the end of a double barrel, and a most unlikely guide whom Bubba persists in calling Pooh. Off they go to, of all places, Tuscumbia, Alabama, via a river barge tow boat and end up, after various perigrinations, on the mountain top in Mentone, Alabama. What happens in the seven days that Pu Tai is allotted to complete his task is both fascinating and delightful. Bubba leaves his loveable, beer-guzzling dog Blue (given to him by his alcoholic father because he could not support both their habits) with his best friend Chigger ("Chigger is full of shit but he means well") and embarks on his life-changing adventure.
Lee/Hartwell has deftly woven his story of love, compassion, and the quest for inner peace into a colorful tapestry of Jeff Foxworthy style southern humor and good ol' boy commentary. In the beginning Bubba is homophobic to the point of refusing to go out in the evening with Chigger unless they plan to kill something. Bubba says "We decided to go frog giggin' because two men can't go outdoors without killin' something or people might get the wrong idea."
With nothing to lose, Billy Bob Coker takes an unprecedented leap of faith, and all of us are the better for it.