Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All - Allan Gurganus
At an estate sale a couple of months ago, I spied the title, "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All", along a dusty book spine on a small shelf of books. Too intriguing, I bought it and tucked it into a new home in my own overflowing library.
Somehow, I had missed hearing about the book, though it was a New York Times best seller for eight months. Discovered there was even a movie made based on the novel with Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Blythe Danner, and Cicely Tyson.
At first, the writing style was stilted feeling, forced and too cutesy in my first meeting of the heroine, Lucille Marsden. Lucille is old and trapped in a rest home. Gurganus, it seemed to me, in trying to establish Lucille as "feisty" (and thus the secret to her longevity), made Lucille predictable and stereotypical of old people in care facilities. Sort of a Fried Green Tomatoes done as a Sunday cartoon strip ala Fritz Freleng.
I couldn't get into the story, I found fault with the first person narrative of Lucille; the book was not at all what I was expecting and I was contemplating abandoning it for something else to read. Almost like forcing yourself to take a dose of medicine, I kept at it, hoping to learn to like Lucille. Then, one evening I couldn't put the book down. Hooked. I think the introduction of the slave girl turned freed woman, Castalia, did the trick. Now here was a character worthy of discovery.
Then, bit by bit, my affection for the rest of the characters began. I found myself marking passages to re-read, sentences to remember. What strikes me odd as I am now about three-quarters way through, is how Allan Gurganus - a man - can so intimately understand female perceptions. Other male authors have done it, for sure, but it still amazes me.
In the meantime, while I am finishing the book, here are a few quotes I found myself marking as "keepers":
No names, please. In this town, child, a body don't need them. Gossip comes what they now call genetically coded.
Memory tends to make - not war- but many little treaties.
War means nothing fancier than losing your best friend.
Honey, what's nowadays known as Child Abuse, folks once called Just Good Maintenance.
But in bed he was like a stamp collector born with mittens on. A steam locomotive trying to hop onto your knees and pass as a lapdog.
Stay tuned for my final review...sheepishly, I admit I'll be sad to reach the end of Lucille's tale.