This is the second in a series of summer “Blink Book Reviews” by Reba Hull Campbell
For anyone who is southern by birth or has moved to the south, passed through the south, yearned for the south or just wondered about the south, South of Heaven gives voice to southern realities and complexities of family, loss, love and redemption with twists of stories and delightful turns of words.
The storyline centers around two sisters. Leona moved to Raleigh as a young bride, and Fern remains in fictional Carthage that seems to be an ambulance-ride distance from Southern Pines. Leona took the “expected” path to marry well, live well and raise pretty children. Fern, well, she was forced onto a different path. I’m intentionally avoiding too much detail about their divergent circumstances because it would take the fun out of reading the book. Suffice it to say, we all know our share of Ferns and Leonas.
And while I loved the plot twists that moved at a leisurely pace between the sisters’ young lives in the ‘60s and their rather secret-stocked adult lives in the 90s, the best part of this book is the writer’s deft use of southernisms. Patti’s writing subtly lets a southerner know she’s been there, done that, (having grown up in Galax, VA, and lived all over the south as an adult), but it won’t scare off someone not familiar with these charming turns of phrases by sounding stilted or fake.
Here’s a sample of a few of my favorites:
“Leona walked in the front door and Fern’s good sense stepped out back for a cigarette.”
“Folks around here like things on the straight and narrow. Tobacco rows. Fairways. People. Faith.”
“Lord help my time of day.”
Then, Patti intertwines this endearing phrasing with casual mentions of food we southerners know so well. What good southerner hasn’t had watermelon rind pickles served son a cut glass pickle tray, BBQ sandwiches from The Pig, and casseroles with Ritz cracker crusts from the local Junior League cookbook.
This book has all the right elements – falls and redemptions, sagging clotheslines, busybodies, homebodies, social strictures, outcasts and a few emus thrown in for good measure. Are you hooked yet?
Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in (what she hopes will be) a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews” for the summer. She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks.