I was talking to my friend Dawn recently about the fact that she and I both like to read southern writers. She gave me this title of hers and I picked it up last Friday and finished it Saturday - not being able to put it down and carrying it in my purse when I had to go on errands in order to steal every minute for reading. Now I need her to come for supper so we can rehash it.
So appropriate that it begins the first paragraph with a description of a loved cat, since Dawn and I are both cat lovers. The whole book takes place over a summer, and a long hot humid one it is, in small Pinetta, Florida. The setting is in a time period that Dawn and I remember well. A time with no air conditioning, soda in bottles, and ice cubes in trays with levers to break them out, mothers who were housewives, and fathers who ruled their families with stern hands.
Berry Jackson, 13 is the narrator who is longing to be pretty, and to understand her family, friends, and neighbors. Pinetta has one school, two churches, and a gas station. Everyone knows everyone else and pretty much all their business. Berry's father is the school principal and is well-respected. Her mother is a good mother but longs for something “else” and appears to be pining for the good-looking overly friendly preacher. Berry's best friend is the neighbor boy who likes to wear dresses and nail polish. Her brothers are typical boys mystifying Berry with their mischief. Just as the reader is floating along with Berry while she sorts things out, the Baptists compete with the Methodists for the most attendees and the loudest singing, a hurricane hits and the town is torn apart. Mr. Jackson and a beautiful neighbor girl are missing, a chain gang from the prison comes to town to rebuild, and Berry falls in love.
Kincaid has a wonderful style able to evoke whole days from memory of life in the 50s and 60s. She is able to make one feel cool rain on hot skin, the frustration of trying to find a cool spot on a hot and humid night, and smell burnt timbers from a bonfire. She is also able to make skin crawl with descriptions of snakes that get flooded out of their dens during hard rain. There is nothing like the prose of a southern writer with a rich vocabulary and especially this one who remembers how we thought and talked back then. Who says davenport instead of sofa today, and no one I know drinks Kool-Ade like we did then. I don't feel I can do this book justice but to say I highly recommend it. Thanks Dawn Williams, fellow feline fancier and southern literature connoisseur.