Late last year, I had the privilege of meeting the very Southern, charming and humble Michael Morris at SIBA, and then read his book "Man in the Blue Moon" in connection with the She Reads Book Club. When our paths crossed again at the UCF Book Festival this past spring, we had a chance to talk more in-depth, and we learned that we both have a passion for the Florida panhandle, particularly St. George Island. Michael's face lit up when I mentioned my favorite vacation spot EVER, and he said "Well you HAVE to read my book 'A Place Called Wiregrass'! Part of the book takes place on St. George Island!". He also told me this was his first book, and was quite a challenge because the protagonist was a woman. Michael promptly sent me the book, and I dove in head first.
Synopsis: Erma Lee has had a rough life. She works in a dead-end factory job, her mother is bitter and mean-spirited towards her, her daughter is in prison and she's raising her granddaughter Cher, while trying to keep the drug-addict father from making contact. When Erma Lee's husband beats her and cheats on her for the umpteenth time, she decides it is time to move to a new city...a new state even...to start over.
In Wiregrass, Alabama, Erma Lee puts down stakes. She meets a widowed mechanic that makes her tingly, gets a job in the school cafeteria, and finds a side job as an assistant to an elderly socialite named Miss Claudia who has recently fallen and injured herself. Erma Lee and Miss Claudia form an instant bond, despite their age difference. But just when Erma Lee starts to feel hope for the future, her past comes calling, and with Miss Claudia's help, she must resolve it once and for all.
My thoughts: This book is everything that you want and love in a Southern novel. There is heartbreak, but there is love. There is hardship, but there is laughter. There are strong women. There are fish fries and dancing, there is iced tea, there's drinkin' and shootin' and hollerin'. (And there is St. George Island and a hidden body as a bonus!). This is Joshilyn Jackson territory folks, but this little beauty is written by a man.
I'm thinking that Michael must have been raised by a strong, positive woman, or is married to one, or both. Because he gets it.
I loved the dialect and the not-so-grammatically-correct English. It is easy enough to understand but this is how folks talk in the deep South. I could almost hear their drawls in my head. The characters were authentic and flawed and gritty and courageous.
I particularly enjoyed the relationship between these two little pit bulls, Erma Lee and Miss Claudia. On the heels of reading "Orphan Train", I couldn't help but be reminded of the unlikely friendship between Molly and Vivian. Their strength to overcome the odds truly touches the heart.
So if you love a classic Southern story, if you love Joshilyn Jackson, you really need to seek out this novel. You will not be sorry!
4.5 out of 5 stars