Reading the South
New Fiction by Regional Authors, September 2003
by Hal Jacobs
for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Suzanne Kingsbury's The Gospel According
to Gracey (Scribner, August 2003, $22) profiles a day in the
life of Atlanta's inner city drug culture from the vantage point of
some of its most desperate users and dealers. Gracey Fill bridges both
worlds as junkie and ex-wife to the Rocket, a shadowy figure who is
spreading some killer heroin on the streets.
Confined in a west Atlanta precinct room, Gracey will only divulge
his whereabouts on one condition: The two narcotics detectives -- a
fresh rookie and jaded vet -- must listen to her personal history so
they'll understand her as a human being instead of writing her off as
another washed-up junkie.
Outside the questioning room, the streets churn. A young Buckhead blueblood,
Frazier Sky, lives in a rundown Cabbagetown house to be closer to his
real love, heroin. His girlfriend, Audrey, who should be preparing for
that night's Lovett School prom, tags along as he trades in a box of
used needles for new works. Their parents are too needy to notice: Frazier's
father and Audrey's mother are preoccupied with their own extramarital
The most dashing, authentic character in the novel is Deneeka, a drug
runner for the Rocket and a homeless transvestite who winds up on a
collision course with the young Buckhead couple. When she brings drugs
to a group of college kids huddled in a derelict house, "she is
a queen, twirling around, bringing cake for her subjects."
At times, though, the novel itself seems to twirl around. While offering
a graphic, disturbing close-up of Atlanta's drug culture, the writing
frequently hits notes that sound trumped-up ("savage beasts have
stampeded in fellowship through the wild plains of her body") or
inaccurate (throughout the novel, "Cabbagetown" is spelled
"Cabbage Town") as it winds towards a heavy, moralistic ending.
Kingsbury is also the author of "The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved
Is it worse to lose your sister or
your husband? That's the question that Maryanne Stahl poses in
The Opposite Shore (NAL Accent paperback, August 2003,
$12.95) after a 40-something woman discovers her husband and sister
locked in a kiss on her husband's sailboat. Rather than confront William
and Anna, Rose moves to a nearby island community with her teenage daughter
and rebuilds her life around her emerging painting career.
In alternating chapters, Stahl, a native New Yorker who lives near
Atlanta, shows the weight of days and weeks pressing on her characters
as a result of their choices. William, an English professor in New Haven,
must decide if he should leave everyone behind and accept a one-year
post as visiting professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Anna contemplates quitting her job at a nature center to crew on schooners
sailing across the Atlantic.
Slowly a sense of balance returns. And just as a stormy kiss shattered
their relationships in the first place, a stormy sea brings everyone
back together in an arrangement that no one could have foreseen.
Stahl is also the author of Forgive the Moon.
Erica Orloff's Diary of a Blues Goddess
(Red Dress Ink, August 2003, $12.95) reads like an episode of "Sex
and the City" transposed to muggy, jazzy New Orleans. Instead of
being a sex columnist, Georgia Ray Miller is a wedding singer who lacks
the confidence to be a blues diva. But as she embarks on relationship
with her own Mr. Big, a N'awlins blueblood, she finds herself singing
the blues like never before.
Of course, Georgia shares all the intimate little details with her
best friend, a glamorous drag queen from the Quarter. And as she evolves
into a "blues goddess," she receives beaucoup support from
her devoted bandmates (especially a certain soulful Irish bluesman),
and her artsy grandmother, who owns the former brothel that puts a roof--and
ghosts--over their heads.
Orloff, a transplanted New Yorker living in South Florida, is also
the author of Spanish Disco.
An edited version of these reviews appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
Sunday, Sept. 7, 2003.