Think Southern Gothic. Without the convoluted familial ties of Faulkner nor the dark brooding nature of Flannery O'Connor. Think Fannie Flagg, of Fried Green Tomatoes fame. Or Lee Smith, author of Oral History and Saving Grace.
Or, think Rebecca Wells. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood doesn't appear in Wells' latest novel, but she certainly has some divine secrets to tell
I've always been partial to Ms. Wells' prose. Even though the 2002 flick conjured from her novel The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood almost ruined a good story for me (Note to self: Never watch a movie before reading the book!), I've always been attracted to Wells and the down-home quality of her writing. In The Crowning Glory of Calla Lilly Ponder, Wells captures the essence of Southern female-hood in a way that evokes both empathy (for we of Southern heritage) and sympathy (for those Yankees who wish they were of Southern heritage) at once; her voluptuous, mystical way with words has kept me happily reading through all four of her novels. When I pick up a work by Rebecca Wells, I'm treated to the Spanish Moss and searing, down-home humidity of her native Louisiana, but to so much more, as well. The sense of style, and of humor, with which we Southern gals face almost all the bad hands that life sometimes deals us come alive in these 391 pages. Calla Lilly Ponder is our protagonist. She's also on a mission, both to go to beauty school and to find herself. She leaves her tiny bayou home for the big city, only to discover that she already had what she was missing all along. A little like Dorothy and the Wizard, minus the tornado and Toto, too. But I find Wells' tale perfectly in line with my way of thinking when Calla enlists a gay couple, a childhood friend masquerading as a Playboy Bunny and a Cajun river pilot, among many others, to help her find her way. Yes, this is a "quest" novel, but instead of Ulysses and his search for "worth and knowledge," you'll learn a lot about one little ol' gal and in the end, something about yourself, as well. I left Calla Lilly with a profound sense of regret, and a great appreciation for the bayous and the byways of the Louisiana countryside, as well as for the bustle of the Big Easy, New Orleans. I also found myself thirsty. For a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane, with an orange slice and a cherry on top. Or just wanting to drink at the fountain of my own Southern heritage. You pick. And even if you don't hail from below the Mason Dixon Line, Cally Lilly and her kin will welcome you with open arms. Their neighborliness and their knowledge of the human condition are their crowning glory.