Reading the South
New Fiction by Regional Authors, May 2002
by Hal Jacobs
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
When we first meet Ruth, the quirky narrator
of Catherine Landis' debut novel, Some Days There's
Pie (St. Martin's Press, $23.95), she is standing in
Room 12 of the Little Swiss Inn in Mount Claire, N.C. Her best
friend, Rose, is lying dead on a roll-away. From these humble
beginnings comes the remarkable tale of a special friendship.
Ruth has never fit in. As a child in rural Tennessee, she
preferred being alone in the woods to being around people. As
a young woman, she was too funny for her stereo salesman husband,
who "decided he loved Jesus more than me. Maybe there's
women who can stand that, but I'm not one of them."
Hitting the road on her own, Ruth is the kind of person who
could drift through life feeling unappreciated and unworthy.
But then she meets Rose.
The 79-year-old Rose may behave like a small-town eccentric,
but she's a smart, kind woman and a former local journalist.
After she rescues the young woman from a drugstore meltdown,
Rose becomes a role model for Ruth.
"Pain is what makes you human," says Rose, who treats
her lung cancer as yesterday's news. But Ruth is young enough
to believe pain can and should be avoided.
This is a story that's been told before -- a young person
learns about living from someone dying -- but it's told here
with a refreshing new voice. Ruth is an innocent -- as well as
a smooth, natural-born liar -- who discovers her own humanity
by caring for a friend. She could be a distant family relation
of Huck Finn, who went looking for the meaning of life and found
Catherine Landis, a former newspaper reporter in North Carolina,
lives in Knoxville, Tenn.
Now that their cookbook is finished,
five women from the Hope Springs Community Church begin sharing
their recipes for living in Lynne Hinton's Garden of Faith
(HarperCollins, $20.95). Together, the women face Margaret's
breast cancer, Nadine's suicide attempts and Jessie's decision
to move west. At the core of the group is Charlotte, a young
minister who is unable to share her problems with her parishioners.
This is her first parish -- and the first time she's experienced
a genuine struggle with her faith.
Gardening provides a powerful metaphor for these women's lives.
In Charlotte's case, she begins to feel something growing inside
her after a visit to a Greensboro counselor. "It was not
big or dramatic. It merely felt like the possibility of a shift,
a lift up against the dirt, a delicate but undeniable stretch
of stem toward sunlight."
Lynne Hinton, a pastor in Asheboro, N.C., is the author of
"Friendship Cake" and "The Things I Know Best."
Gwendoline Fortune's Growing Up
Nigger Rich examines the thoughts and feelings of Gayla
Tyner, a middle-aged, African-American college professor who
is returning to Carolton, S.C., after 30 years of living in the
North. While her husband is free to wander into the arms of an
attractive colleague, Gayla confronts the changes in the South,
as well as in herself and her aged parents. She finds that her
hometown is still racially divided, but without the violence
that once haunted her.
Dr. Gwendoline Fortune lives in Saxapahaw, N.C., where she
is a counselor.
Also check out these new novels by regional writers:
Appalachian Patterns by Bo Ball (University
Press of Kentucky, $17). This reprinted collection of short stories
set in rural 1930s Virginia includes two Pushcart Prize winners.
Shadow of an Angel by Mignon F. Ballard (Thomas
Dunne Books, $23.95). A special quilt, a secret society and a
Triggerfish Twist by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow,
$24.95). A romp through Florida that is darker than Carl Hiaasen's
riffs on the sun-addled state.
From the Heart of Covington by Joan Medlicott
(Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95). There's never a dull moment at
the Covington farmhouse of these three older ladies.
Betty Sweet Tells All by Judith Minthorn Stacy
(HarperCollins, $22.95). Like daughter, like mother. In this
sequel to "Maggie Sweet," Maggie's mother decides to
follow her heart to happiness.
An edited version of these reviews appeared in The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, Sunday, May 26, 2002