Apr 10, 08
southern gothic fans, fans of slow pacing, fans of character development
Read in April, 2008
** spoiler alert **
This is another novel I really enjoyed. I've read criticism that says that since it is set up as a mystery, it was disappointing since the ending really has no resolution. I looked at this book an entirely different way, seeing it as a rich character study of not only Harriet and her sister, mother, grandmother and lively great-aunts, but also of the Ratliff family, who are quite far off from the somewhat wealthy Cleve family. I thought it was quite obvious from the beginning that, as a mystery story, there would not be resolve. I didn't care, since I found the slow, purposeful pacing a wonderful way to set the story in the summer of a 1970s Mississippi town.
A huge part of what I liked about this book was the setting. As I said, both the slow pacing and the southern gothic aspect were a huge draw for me. It made it more of a reading "experience" rather than just reading. For me, this was truly a book that made me feel like I was transported (how corny) and experiencing something new. I wanted to savor it at times, like a rich dessert to be eaten slowly (I believe that ties in to the reading "experience" thing). The descriptions of the heat and the town made me long for hot summer afternoons spent drifting around my old pool at my old house. The setting made up another focal character, and I feel the mood and charm of this story (not to mention the charm of the characters) would have been lost had it been set somewhere other than the south or had been faster paced.
Another aspect I really appreciated was the closeness of the extended family. As someone with a very small immediate family (my mother and I) who has always been close with my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-aunts and the like, I could relate to the fact that the great-aunts were always around and were fully fleshed out and important characters. I also liked the character of Allison, the older sister. She wasn't very active and was mostly background, but she struck me as realistic and someone with whom I could relate. (Is "with whom" appropriate there? Would it be "to whom"? I don't know anything about this "whom" business.) Charlotte, the mother of Harriet and Allison (and Robin, obviously),was also portrayed as an annoyingly realistic mother who had never even partially recovered from the loss of her oldest child. I say she was annoying because she neglects the remaining children in a way I found... annoying.
I loved this book. It was everything I think a novel of this sort should be. I think the descriptions and character quirks will stay with me for a long time, and in a good way. Since I have a knack for reading author's works out of publishing order, I'll probably go back and soon read her debut novel, A Secret History, which was more popular with her fans and critics.