Sunday, November 30, 2008

About This Book I'm Reading



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.

7 comments:

K. said...

Sounds like a good one.

I'm reading David Halberstam's last book, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. Kind of a tome, but early on it's Halberstam at his best.

Kay Dennison said...

I think it sounds like a winner!

I'm reading John Grisham's The Broker and a bio by a local woman called Nisei Daughter -- her story of being in the Japanese interment camps during WWII. I always read two books at once -- one fiction; one non-fiction. Both of these are excellent.

joared said...

I remember hearing about this book, but never got around to getting it or seeing the movie. Your description sounds interesting.

I've had several books I keep intending to post about ranging from a factual story of early America through tales about some fascinating unusual neurological behaviors characteristic of some people. Meanwhile, I'm reading Maureen Dowd's "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide."

K. said...

Keep us posted as to the answer, Joared. I've got a dog in that fight!

Cowtown Pattie said...

I like Dowd, but I sure miss the spitfire of Molly Ivins. Dowd, while good, is just pale in comparison.

Are men necessary?

You'll have to divulge that secret to me. Apparently, given my three marriages they must be to me ;-)

Cowtown Pattie said...

I like Dowd, but I sure miss the spitfire of Molly Ivins. Dowd, while good, is just pale in comparison.

Are men necessary?

You'll have to divulge that secret to me. Apparently, given my three marriages they must be to me ;-)

Jeff said...

Miss Patty, I believe there's a version of "Confederate Widow" for the stage, too.