Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler


I believe I said this when I reviewed "Remembering Blue" by Connie May Fowler. But I simply love this author. I adore her. If I could just bottle up the feelings that run through me when I read her books, I could hire a yard guy and a cleaning lady and read all day. Her writing is hypnotic, melodic, smooth and familiar. She is a Florida girl, and she expertly yet subtly weaves the essence of my home state into everything she writes, which makes her very special to me. She seems to have had quite a difficult life in her early years, which adds to the depth of her words. Sugar Cage is Connie's debut novel, a work of art that launched her career. Let me tell you about it.

We are introduced to Inez Temple, the heart and hub of the story. Inez grew up a poor black girl in Eatonville, and now lives just south of Saint Augustine and works as a hotel maid. She is a regal, wise and gentle soul. She meets and befriends the Jewels and the Looneys who are both honeymooning at the hotel, and over time become neighbors and support systems for each other. With these central characters, we take a journey over two decades. Tales are told from the perspective of Inez, Rose Looney and her husband Charlie, Eudora Jewell and her husband Junior, the Looney's son Emory, Emory's girlfriend Soleil Marie Beauvoir, the Jewell's daughter Luella, and even the local mortician Patrick Lackley. Each has their own unique, colorful voice.

This novel is a not just words on a page. It is a sometimes comical, sometimes wistful, sometimes brutal slice of humanity that comes alive as you read. We experience death, adultery, miscarriage, familial estrangement, first loves, blind devotion, friendship and reconciliation. Which is truly, when you think about it, Everyman's life.

Fowler entwines these personal struggles with themes of spirituality. Inez was raised with a general healing spiritualism, Junior worships nature, Eudora gravitates to mystical communication with the dead, and Soleil Marie, an illiterate Haitian who works in the cane fields, is a mambo with a missionary's influence of Catholicism.

In the not-so-distant backdrop of the story looms events and attitudes that shaped modern America. The Jewels and Looneys were married on the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Fear and confusion hovers over all of them like a dark cloud after the assassination of Kennedy. Hope motivates Inez's activism with the prominence of Martin Luther King Jr., and paralyzes her when he is assassinated. Charlie Looney participates in a protest march against blacks. Emory and Soleil Marie struggle to keep their relationship a secret from a society that abhors mixed couples. Emory enlists to fight in Vietnam.

And through it all, Fowler folds in intimate details of the graveyards and the fort in St. Augustine, eating at an authentic fish camp, a carnival in Clewiston, the beauty of driving down A1A with the windows down, the concrete jungle of Miami, the baptismal cleansing of a dip in the ocean, and the culture of the sugar cane industry in southern Florida. These are all pieces of life down here for me. I've even been to the carnival in Clewiston. This is the side of Florida that is real and raw, and what makes Fowler's stories so emotional for me, and why I wish I could send this book for each and every one of you to read!

15 comments:

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

yard guy, cleaning lady ... don't forget the nanny and the driver; oh, and a personal chef, and someone to turn the pages for you. I mean us, I'll join you in this break from reality! :)

Really, great to read how taken you are by this author -- I haven't read anything by (or, frankly, heard of until your post) Connie May Fowler! I'll be on the look out!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Dawn - I forgot about the masseuse! You know, awhile back Beth Fish asked about our favorite unsung authors, and this is the one I mentioned. She deserves more recognition than she has gotten. I should be her agent!!!!

Gavin said...

Sandy - This one sounds like fun, about a place I've never been. I'm adding to my ever growing list!

ds said...

Sandy, I thought I'd read Remembering Blue, but after reading your critique, I clearly didn't! Will definitely have to add Connie May Fowler to the list. Thank you!

Susan said...

I have been a fan of Fowler for a long time, but I've never read this one. My list is getting very long. I also love Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Gilchrist and Bobbie Ann Mason to name a few.

The south has given us a rich roster of women authors from which to choose. Oh, and men too! :)

Beth F said...

Whoa!! Okay. When you told me she was unsung and one of your favorites, I believed you. Now I really, really believe you! I'll put her on my wish list. I wonder if they're available on audio. This sounds like a super book for talking walks and working in the garden. Hummmm.

farmlanebooks said...

Books are always more special when they have a local setting.

I'm really interested to see if this works for someone who doesn't know Florida very well (I've only been once on a Disney trip!). I've book mooched a copy, and will let you know what I think!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Gavin - I think by reading this book perhaps you would get a good feel for the place without ever paying for an airline ticket!

ds - I fell even more in love with Remembering Blue because it took place very close to St. George Island, my little slice of heaven.

Susan - I am thrilled you have heard of her. I will look into these other authors you have mentioned. If they measure up to Connie, I'm there!

Beth - You know, I've never looked to see if there are audios, but I would be surprised if there were. I'm going to look into it...

Jackie - That is awesome. I can't wait to see what you think. If I try to separate myself from my emotions, I think anyone would enjoy the book, and at the same time, get a good flavor of the "real" Florida!

Dar said...

I've never heard of this book before but it certainly sounds good and obviously you loved it. I'll have to add it to the bursting wishlist.

Anna said...

You sold me on this book in the first paragraph. I've never heard of this book or author, but I'm adding this one to my list. Thanks for the great review.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I always love it when books are set in or around places I actually recognize. It makes it a little more special. I'll have to check this one out!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Dar - I don't think you would be disappointed, whether you have any interest in Florida or not! I know what you mean about the bursting wish list!

Anna - thank you! You make my heart happy to hear that; of course that was my goal, to share my love of this author. (While you are adding to your list, get Remembering Blue!)

Melissa - You are right, it does make it more special. But I think even if you know nothing about Florida, this is an awesome book!

Stasha said...

If you haven't done so already, add "The Trouble with Murmur Lee" by Fowler to your "must read" list. In addition to your well articulated praise for this author above, "Murmur Lee" has one of the finest 'saying goodbye' scenes ever written.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Stasha - Yes, this is on my list! There are two or three more books of Connie's that to me must be read. This is one of them. I am glad you stopped by, and I'm glad you are a Connie fan!

Kim said...

Great review, Sandy. Sugar Cage is on my 'looking out for....' list now, thank you. Will let you know when I find it.