Reading the South
New Fiction by Regional Authors, October 2006
by Hal Jacobs
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
She was the daughter of one of the most vilified men in the U.S. At rallies across the south, Winnie Davis was treated like royalty because her father was Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. Julia Oliver's novel Devotion ( University of Georgia Press, $24.95) presents a sharp, endearing account of a woman who was well-educated and sensitive to the ironies of the Reconstruction era. Winnie resembles one of those English heroines who accepts her fate (and, alas, short life) with a smile and never questions her devotion to her cause, in this case, her father. Oliver's sure hands are evident on every page of this slim, lyrical novel:
It is now my favorite time of day. On this golden, New England afternoon in Narrangansett Pier, the sun will be benevolent, the clear-as-a-jewel water cold and bracing. On the Mississippi Gulf coast, the sun would be full-tilt ablaze, the pigeon-colored surf as warm and enticing as an embrace.
Oliver, the author of two previous novels -- Goodbye to the Buttermilk Sky and Music of Falling Water -- lives in Montgomery, Alabama.
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Set in the late 1920s, Renee Dodd's debut novel, A Cabinet of Wonders (Toby Press, $24.95) follows the lives and loves of a troupe of carnival freaks traveling through the South. Although this story has been told before (as well as shown, most notably in Tod Browning's 1932 movie, “Freaks”), Dodd stakes out her own claim to the lurid, sexy world of the World's Smallest Scholar, Wolf Girl, Siamese Twins, and the Marvelous Morphodite. Even though the novel has a sketchy, episodic feel at times, Dodd's writing is often quite irresistible—starting from the opening lines of the novel:
On a Sunday afternoon in early April, on the lichen-encrusted bank of a pool fed by streams burbling like babies and drunkards, Dugan sat close behind Saffron, inhaling apple cider vinegar, hot charcoal, and musk, and fought a swell of yearning as he pulled a fine-toothed metal comb through the vinegar-drenched fur of her back.
Dodd was born in Atlanta (her grandfather was Georgia Tech hall of famer Bobby Dodd) and now teaches creative writing at Georgia College and State University.
An edited version of these reviews appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
Sunday, October 29, 2006.