Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns (Audio)

"Cold Sassy Tree" was the March selection for our Heathrow Literary Society.  I knew virtually nothing about the story, except that it was a "classic" that was published in 1984 by a journalist who wrote the story while convalescing from lymphoma.  I also knew the story had a coming-of-age theme.  So I went into this one cold.


Synopsis:  Our story takes place in 1906 and is narrated by a 14 year-old boy named Will Tweedy.  He and his family live in a small town in Georgia named Cold Sassy, the name derived from the Sassafras trees that grow in that area.  Will's grandmother has just died, and his grandfather shocks his family and the gossipy community by marrying a woman 20 years his junior only three weeks after grandma was laid to rest.


And so goes the summer that Will Tweedy will remember for the rest of his life.  He experiences life lessons about love, social propriety, and about Jesus.  He even gets run over by a train and experiences his first kiss.  He learns to drive a car, he ponders death, and finds out that life is neither fair nor ends up happily-ever-after.


My thoughts:  When I first started this book, I found it somewhat charming and possibly trying a little too hard to be funny, in a Southern, goofy, teenage boy kind of way.  Over time, however, the story became bittersweet and sobering, and I gained a deeper appreciation for the themes that the author threaded through the narrative.  I had heard from others that this book was required reading in their high school, and after finishing it, that makes a whole lot of sense.  There is a lot to discuss here.  


I think one of the most amazing books ever written is "To Kill a Mockingbird".  It is innocent, and is about the loss of innocence.  It has humor, but is humbling.  It teaches lessons about life.  In many ways, "Cold Sassy Tree" had similar qualities.  Now, don't go looking for the closest piece of rotten fruit that you can throw at me.  Nothing will ever match TKAM, but some of the nuances were there, and it made me wonder about Olive Ann Burnes' inspiration.


The prose and dialect was delightfully "Southren".  Burns also did an admirable job of channeling a teenage boy (God love her, it must not have been easy), and capturing the personality of a quirky little town at the turn of the century and of the climate of the US at that time.  Burns also managed to surprise me with a couple of plot twists that I did not see coming.  Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I can't say that I loved it and that it warranted five stars, maybe because it felt like it had all been done before, but I would recommend it.


A few words about the audio:  The narrator for this audio production was Tom Parker, who is new to me, but appears to have been all over the board in the narration category, including a few classics.  It would have been easy to screw this book all to heck, with the tricky dialect, but he did a splendid job.  I don't know if he is a Southern boy, but it sure sounded like it.  


I do need to point out that dialects can be tricky in print as well.  If you struggle with them, audio may be the answer for you.  In this case, the dialect seemed organic and very easy to understand.    


One pretty huge annoyance was the background noise of the production.  There were times that it sounded like Parker was narrating in the corner of a bar at Happy Hour.  It was distracting and a disrespect to Parker and Burns' work.  


4.5 out of 5 stars   





15 comments:

Julie P. said...

I am pretty sure that I never read this one, but after reading your review, I'm wondering why. Sounds like a book that I'd really enjoy!

See... you add books to my list too!

bermudaonion said...

I read this years ago and remembering enjoying it a lot.

Beth F said...

I remember starting this one years ago in print and not ever finishing. I wonder why I put it down. I should revisit it.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one is new to me, and I would love to read it. Great review!

Zibilee said...

When I lived in Daytona, I remember picking this book up off the shelf at the local library. I sat and read a few pages, but didn't think it was for me, so I left it. Now many years have passed, and I am a different kind of reader. I think I might enjoy the book a lot more now, though I think I will take your advice and get it on audio. I will also be listening for all that hubbub in the background! Great review today, Sandy!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This one has been on my list for a long time. I actually confused it with Cold Comfort Farm and suggested we read that one in my book club this year. I will absolutely be picking this one up at some point and I'm glad for the audio tips.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Well my husband wouldn't even wait 3 weeks, or he'd starve to death and run out of clean clothes, etc. etc. I'd give him 3 days....

The Bumbles said...

I adored this book. I was so sad to learn the author passed away. There is a published incomplete sequel but I haven't had the heart to read it, knowing it couldn't compare.

Literary Feline said...

A classic written in 1984! Haha! I feel old. Seriously though, I understand what you mean by "classic". I just couldn't help myself. ;-)

This does sound like it would be a charming book. I am glad to see it has depth to it. That's too bad about the background noise of the audio though. I would find that very distracting.

caite said...

background noise? really?
I have a little coming of age book review today...but a wee bit darker.

JoAnn said...

Sounds like you enjoyed this more than I did... wonder if the audio had anything to do with it. Seems like I only finished because it was a book club selection.

Alyce said...

That is so odd about the audio quality - I've never listened to an audiobook with that problem.

I loved this story though. I read it soon after reading the Fried Green Tomatoes book, and I thought they complemented each other well.

Jenners said...

This is one of those that I've heard of but knew nothing about (until now). That is beyond weird that the audio quality was so poor.

Kathleen said...

I really need to read more Southern Fiction this year. I'll add this to my list.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

This was one of my favorites and resides in my glass cased secretary with other "keepers." I don't recommend the sequel though...Burns died before she finished it...and it's obvious in the story. I wished I'd just left the story alone at the end of Cold Sassy.