Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Review: The stories we tell by Patti Callahan Henry

 I was excited to get an advanced copy of the latest novel by Patti Callahan Henry; the author of ten previous novels. Living in the South, I always look forward to reading books that describe life in the modern South and Patti certainly fits that bill of an author that brings modern Southern fiction to life. Patti grew up in Philadelphia, but moved to the South when she was 12 years old and now lives with her family in Alabama. When reading this book, I almost sensed the sweet tea in a glass and people sitting on a front porch in the evening. In other words, this book oozes Southern lifestyle with all its highlights and low points.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the book is available on from here.
 Settling down with this book was a wonderful way to get away from the daily routine, taking some time off from household chores and work responsibilities. But do not expect this book to be a glorified story of how happy life is for everyone in the modern South because despite writing a novel that reads very peaceful and calming, Patti Callahan Henry describes the story of a woman, who like many married women suffers disappointment, worries and betrayal.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - not quite the sweet tea and mint julep, but coffee and a donut + a good book = weekend bliss
Eve and Cooper Morrison live in Savannah, Georgia and by all appearances, this couple has it made. Cooper comes from one of the best families of the town, while Eve certainly married up and is provided with a family home that oozes tradition, wealth and culture. A daughter Gwen makes the family perfect, so perfect in fact that the family was featured in a magazine spread to showcase their achievement and societal status. Regardless of the fact that Eve's mother in law was commenting on women in her family being pictured wearing jeans, the spread was to focus on Cooper and his business, a digital magazine featuring all things that are needed to make the perfect Southern gentleman. But here is the first sign of trouble. Rather than focus on Cooper and his magazine, Eve's business is getting the headline. Eve has started a letterpress business that produces custom print products; often she and her staff hunt down specific and rare type-letters. This business has taken off and she has hired additional staff. So Copper is not particularly thrilled when the magazine layout mentions more times the inkpress business than his digital magazine. Another facet of their troubled marriage that is well hidden in the glossy magazine images is the rebellious phase that their Gwen is going through right now.

Clearly, Eve has her hands full. A jealous husband, rebellious daughter and a growing business should keep her busy enough, but then her sister Willa also seeks temporary shelter in the house until she gets back on her feet. Willa is trouble and not just because she has no clear direction in life at present, Willa also used to drink. Now recovering, Eve cannot possibly deny her sister assistance and so lets her stay as long as needed in the guesthouse.

Things only get worse when Eve finds out that Cooper and Willa were in a serious car accident. Willa has serious head injuries, while Cooper is awake, but has disfiguring injuries to his face that will require reconstructive surgery. Gwen was also not home, but at least can be found quickly at her boyfriend's home, whom her father disapproves of, and dutifully shows up in the hospital. Eve is not only worried about her loved ones, but also wonders what Cooper was doing in town, when he supposedly was out of town on a business trip. Is something going on between Cooper and Willa or Cooper and another woman?

Cooper tells a story that Eve finds hard to believe, but with Willa not being able to communicate, Eve must trust Cooper that he saw Willa drunk in a bar and wanted to get her home safely. Willa became unruly on the drive home, grabbed the steering wheel and that is how the car ended crashing. Eve initially feels extremely guilty about her sister being the cause of the accident, Cooper's injuries and all the trouble that her sister's presence has caused so far. But as Eve digs deeper of why Cooper was even in town, she realizes that her family life, her marriage and her business are involved in one big lie.

While overall very life affirming, the book does cover some dark topics. Marriage and family are not all sunshine and Eve is definitely a strong woman that knows what is right and what is worth fighting for. The author, Patti Callahan Henry, has managed to write a book about modern women and the struggle to overcome traditional gender roles that still persist, if not within society, certainly in some marriages. Despite the dark episodes that Eve is experiencing, Eve is portrayed as a very strong woman that in the end is able to overcome a lot of obstacles and live her life with her true calling in mind.

This is in my opinion one of the best novels written about the modern South. It manages to combine the traditional aspects that still persist in many Southern families with modern times and its influences; some of which spell trouble and need adjusting to.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

No comments: