About a year ago I read Susan Gregg Gilmore's second published book "The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove". If you don't want to go back and rehash my review, I'll just save time and tell you that I LOVED it...gave it five stars. What stood out to me about this book is that from the cover, it seemed like it would be a light and fun Southern fiction kind of read. And it was that. But also it was a complex and at times dark study of race and bigotry in the 1960's. It was an amazing novel.
So I was not the least bit against the idea of reading Gilmore's first novel "Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen" for our Books, Babes and Bordeaux book club. I now knew that despite the funny title and the lure of Dilly Bars, this book would have heft, and I couldn't wait to experience Gilmore's talent once again.
Synopsis: Catherine Grace has always dreamed of getting out of the one-horse Georgia town in which she and her little sister have always lived. Throughout their childhood, they have worked on their escape plan while sitting on the picnic table outside the Dairy Queen, eating their Dilly Bars.
There are ghosts Catherine must escape, you see. Her mother drowned when she was just a little girl, and has since been raised by her Baptist preacher father and her neighbor who inspires much of the small-town gossip, Gloria Jean. Neither her needy family nor a boyfriend is going to keep her tethered once she turns 18. At that point, she is heading for Atlanta and she will make a success of herself.
Grab yourself a sweet tea and a comfortable chair in the shade and enjoy this most perfect example of coming-of-age Southern fiction. Only, prepare yourself for a deep undercurrent that explores the family bond, loss and the insidious secrets buried beneath the facade of a seemingly perfect small town.
My thoughts: Gilmore has done it again, and this time with her debut novel. She has charmed me into a puddle of mush. It is hard for me to resist any novel that is Deep South in the '60's and '70's. But this one sets itself apart with its voice, which is all sass and drawl and laugh-to-keep-from-crying humor. Catherine Grace now lives in my head.
But I don't mind. She is a worthy imaginary friend. She is full of piss and vinegar, likes football and refuses to be a priss. She knows what she wants and has a single-minded focus to get it. Gilmore gives birth to the most strong, colorful female characters.
The supporting cast is equally as colorful. I became especially fond of Gloria Jean, who taught Catherine about periods, the importance of looking good, and making strawberry jam. She didn't give a flip if all the society women talked behind her back, and was proud that she collected husbands like some people collect shot glasses or baseball cards. I also loved Miss Mabie, the elderly version of Gloria Jean who rented a room to Catherine in Atlanta, and her maid Flora. As you read about these women, it was easy to fantasize them to life so they could nurture you and take you under their wing. And cook you fried chicken.
I appreciated the gift of growing up along side of Catherine, seeing her through her pre-teen years all the way to young womanhood. This is the same tact taken in "The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove", and it is wonderfully satisfying.
4.5 out of 5 stars