Friday, January 25, 2019

Two Southern Novels

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Setting can such an important part of a novel, it can almost be considered a character in the story. This month’s Book Report takes a look at two books with a distinctive Southern setting- Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing and Lisa Patton’s Rush. 

Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing has garnered much critical praise, ending up on many 2018 best of the year books, and is currently on the best seller list. Reese Witherspoon not only chose it as one of her book club picks, she is also producing a movie based on the book. 

Kya is just six years old in 1952 when her mother puts on her best dress and walks out their house, and away from her family. Soon after, Kya’s older siblings leave one by one, and when her beloved brother Jodie leaves, it is just Kya and her violent, drunken father.

They live in a shack near a marsh on the North Carolina coast. Her father eventually disappears too, leaving the young child to fend for herself. She eats greens and whatever she can forage, and sometimes trades mussels for gas for her boat with Jumpin, who owns a small store. Jumpin and his wife Mabel are the only people to show her any kindness.

The rest of the town call her Marsh Girl, and she is subjected to teasing and torment from other children. She doesn’t attend school, and when she is fourteen, Tate, a young man a few years older than her, befriends her and offers to teach her to read.

Kya is a quick and eager student, and she and Tate bond over their love of nature and the marsh. When Tate goes away to college Kya is devastated, and soon falls under the spell of another man from the town- Chase Andrews, the town’s golden boy. He begins a secret relationship with Kya, one she mistakes for love.

When Chase falls to his death from a fire tower, Kya is suspected of killing him and she is arrested. The subsequent trial causes a huge sensation in the town, and fills the story with incredible tension.

Where the Crawdads Sing”is a stunning novel. Owens has written three nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa, but this is her debut novel. She imbues Kya with such humanity, and because of her nature background, she writes the marsh as a living, breathing character. You will find yourself lost in this beautiful story, and Kya is truly unforgettable. 

Lisa Patton’s Rush is set in 2016, on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Mississippi. Pearl is a 44-year old black woman who has worked as a housekeeper for 25 years at the Alpha Delta Beta sorority house, along side her Aunt Fee, the house cook. After 25 years, she earns just $11.50 an hour, and barely makes it on unemployment during the three summer months when school is out. 

She loves her job, but it is hard work, cleaning and caring for the young girls who live in the house, and the four hundred girls who belong to the sorority but live elsewhere on campus. Pearl is the heart of the house, and the girls turn to her when they have a problem and need sage advice or a shoulder to cry on.

Lilith Whitmore is a former Alpha Delta Beta, now is scheming to make sure that her daughter gets invited to join the house during rush week. Lilith and her husband are beyond wealthy and use their money to get whatever they want.

Lilith contacts Wilda, a former sorority sister whose daughter Ellie is also going to Ole Miss and pledging the sorority. Wilda and her husband are upper middle class, and when Lilith hires a dorm room designer that costs $20,000, she bullies Wilda into sharing the cost, which is more than Wilda can afford.

Cali is a smart, ambitious young lady whose ultimate goal is to become governor of the state. She was raised by her grandparents, and she and Ellie become good friends. Cali wants to pledge a sorority as well, but Lilith intends to thwart those plans.

Rush tackles racism, class, tradition, mother/daughter relationships and the broken healthcare system. Even though I felt the ending was bit too tidy, I loved the characters (especially Pearl and Cali) and being dropped into this sometimes foreign world of sororities.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens- A+
Published by Putnam
Hardcover, 346 pages, $26

Rush by Lisa Patton- B+
Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 410 pages, $26.99

1 comment:

  1. I've missed seeing you over at Weekend Cooking! I am now 196 on the library reserve list for Where the Crawdads Sing:) They didn't have Patton's Rush, so I'm giving one of her other books a try.