“Heart of Junk,” a new novel by Luke Geddes, opens with uptight Margaret watching two vendors unpack their wares at the Heart of America Antique Mall – a large but struggling operation in Wichita, Kansas.
“There were artifacts and then there were knickknacks,” Margaret thinks. “There were knickknacks and then there was junk.”
Lee and Seymour’s collection of “Beverly Hillbillies” board games, Lee Majors lunch boxes and MC Hammer dolls barely qualify as junk, Margaret thinks. But it aptly reflects the colorful cast of characters that soon is on display in Geddes’ dark comedy.
Geddes moved to Wichita from Wisconsin to work on his MFA degree, at which time he began frequenting antique malls and flea markets. This novel was inspired by the people, places and culture he experienced in Wichita, and local readers will recognize references to Eastborough mansions, Delano hipsters, and College Hill activists. Not all the descriptions are flattering. Seymour describes an expression he calls “the Wichita Scowl” – “No one was openly hostile, just seething with unspoken judgment,” he says. “Here, everyone hated everyone else as much as he did.”
The novel chronicles the eccentric purveyors as they await the arrival of a famed antiques television show, “Pickin’ Fortunes,” which they hope will save the Heart of America mall from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the city is wracked with panic over the abduction of pageant princess Lindy Bobo, and one of the vendors knows more than he’s saying about the girl’s whereabouts.
Geddes’ novel gets bogged down at times, as characters detail the minutiae of their postcards, pottery, vinyl records or Barbie collections. But it also speaks to the Marie Kondo-fueled trend of decluttering and illustrates how “junk” can have deeper personal value. “Heart of Junk” is a comically dark, quirky treat, and one that Wichita readers in particular will treasure.