Sometimes you get a review that excites and humbles you as an author. The greatest joy is not that someone enjoys the book, but they see things you hoped people would see.
Thanks to Hannah Doyle!
The first novella, “Butcher, the Baker,” is about a master chef who is forced to work various low-wage jobs cooking plain foods on the railroad and at the Volunteers of America relief house. His talents as a cook seem to rival even Edna Lewis’—look her up if you haven’t—and yet, due to a life of poverty, some jail time, and persistent racism in the South, the reality of living his dream of owning his own bakery continually evades him. The characterization in this story, as in all the others, is amazing. I don’t want to give anything away, so you’ll have to read the rest yourself!
The second novella, “The Brambles,” is another beautiful story about two older sisters living together, despite their warring personalities. The characters seem like brainchildren of Flannery O’Connor, while also reminding me of Grey Gardens and the way family members can control and hold each other back. The novella interweaves gorgeously with all of the other stories as well.
The third novella, “Sandra and the Snake Handlers,” might have been my favorite. I can’t think of many stories with a lone protagonist that succeed in building such suspense. Driggers manages to weave a fascinating, intricate world out of this woman’s loneliness. It’s also interesting the way the novella blends so many of the South’s strange qualities—like snake handling, sexual repression, and hypocritical Christians—into an unusual and gripping narrative.
The fourth novella, “M.R. Vale,” gives this collection its final breath and grace. It is the only story in the collection with a first-person narrative, lending it an extra sense of urgency and intimacy. To me it is the most tragic. It completes the “lovesick” theme—a theme demonstrated by devotion to craft, lust, and mourning throughout the book. I can’t wait to read more of Driggers’ lit!