Tag Archives: Southern fiction

Jean Spradlin-Miller’s Monday Book

Jean Spradlin-Miller, an animal lover from Birmingham, Alabama brings us the Monday Book this week!

w204The Truest Pleasure, by Robert Morgan, has become one of my favorite books. I stumbled over it several years ago when browsing through the bookstore in search of a new book to read. What attracted me to Morgan’s novel are the time and the location. I’ve always loved books, such as Cataloochee and Cold Mountain, which are about the people in the southern Appalachian Mountains, since many of my ancestors came from this area.

The Truest Pleasure tells the story of the marriage of Ginny and Tom Powell, who marry near the turn of the last century. There is much that they have in common. They both love the land, both had fathers who fought in the Civil War, and both have a powerful attraction to each other. Ginny’s father survived the War, returning to cultivate his land in western North Carolina and create a secure home for his family. Tom’s father, however, died in a prison camp, and Tom has had to struggle most of his life to provide for his mother and siblings. Ginny and Tom’s marriage, they know, is also an advantageous one for them both – security and peace of mind for Tom, and a proper husband for Ginny.

But there are things that cause a rift in their marriage. Because of the poverty of his youth, Tom is consumed with work and the accumulation of money, which haven’t really brought him the peace of mind he seeks. On the other hand, Ginny is passionate about her Pentecostal beliefs and is swept up in the fervent spirit of the brush arbor meetings, where she “speaks in tongues” and becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Tom is horrified by what he sees as her loss of dignity and self-control, but Ginny sees it as a blessing from God for her spiritual well-being. Over time, Ginny becomes jealous and impatient with Tom’s preoccupation with work and money. These obsessions cause a deep division between Tom and Ginny, where they no longer speak, nor are they even physical with one another.

Ginny and Tom’s marriage ultimately reaches a major crisis. Ginny finally realizes that her truest pleasure is not her love of God, but that through her love and personal sacrifice for her husband Tom, she shows her love for God. This is a beautifully written novel, giving you a real understanding of the time, and the place and its people, without ridicule or condescension. Morgan personally knows this place, and shows it through his respect for the characters and their way of life.

I met Robert Morgan several years ago at a book signing, shortly after the release of his biography of Daniel Boone. For years, I had been praising his work to anyone who would listen, and I was excited about meeting him. I had the good fortune in being able to speak to Mr. Morgan alone for more than a few seconds. He was very generous with his time; we spoke at length about writing and character development, and his personal method of working. He was such a gentleman, and I will always be grateful to him for sharing with me.

 

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The Monday Book: COLD SASSY TREE by Olive Ann Burns

File:ColdSassyTreeBookCover.jpgI read this book while living as a single woman in a small town many years ago, and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I loved the imagery, the dialogue, the authentic characters, and the fact that was a “small” story with big humanity.

“Character drives plot” was never truer than in Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Ann Burns wrote about Will, his grandfather Rucker, his grandfather’s second wife (a much younger woman he marries only three weeks after the death of his lifelong and beloved first wife) and the Mill people. There are new inventions like motorcars, and amazing escapes from near death by locomotive–which turns Will into a town celebrity. It’s a small town, pre-television

The Mill people, including Lightfoot, the girl Will has a crush on, live on the wrong side of the tracks and do the town’s dirty work. They’re not supposed to be like the rest of town, but the story incorporates some elements that the times are a’changin’. Burns does such a lovely job of drawing her characters that you feel you know them. You can see them standing in front of you, and you know how they would act if you invited them home for tea.

My friend Suzanne Richey and I were both reporters for the same small town newspaper when I read the book, and we used to laugh when covering some of the ‘smaller minded’ small town stories that we were living in Cold Sassy Tree.

Who loves whom, who marries whom, who hates whom, all rolled into a small southern town in Georgia: it’s a slow, sweet, lazy day plot that should be read under a tree eating watermelon.

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