Books by Janice Daugharty

JUST DOLL by Janice Daugharty
Released: April 28, 2004

"Memorable setting, uncompelling plot."
For her first historical fiction, Daugharty (Like a Sister, 1999, etc.) turns to a post-bellum plantation in southern Georgia, where changes are on the way but old habits linger. Read full book review >
LIKE A SISTER by Janice Daugharty
Released: Dec. 17, 1999

The prolific Daugharty (Whistle, 1998, etc.) has quietly become one of the most original chroniclers of dysfunctional southern families. Her latest traces the efforts of an adolescent girl to distance herself from the self-destructive, yet alluring behavior of her feckless mother. Athena Kaye, known to everyone as Sister, is 13 years old, and exhausted. She has been dragged across the rural South by her restless, chaotic mother, Marnie, who has a habit of taking off town at night, "dodging wives and debts," and leaving behind "lusting men and short-handed employers." Sister struggles to tend to her younger twin brothers and to her baby sister, but the job is increasingly too much for her. The family has come to rest most recently in the small town of Cornerville, where Marnie's latest boyfriend—the aptly named Sade—augments his juke-joint income by charging the locals for Marnie's favors. Despite her mother's long history of irresponsibility, Sister isn't prepared for Marnie's eventual flight from the abusive Sade, leaving her children behind. Now Sister must try to fend off both the locals who want to break up the family and Ray Williams, a randy politician who follows Sister around. The family is separated, and Williams breaks into the house where Sister has taken shelter, then rapes her. When he returns the next day, she kills him and, with the aid of a quiet, caring neighbor, Willa Lamar, hides the body. Willa's unselfish act changes Sister's view of the harsh world she's grown up in—and dissipates her longing for a reunion with her mother. When Marnie finally does show up, she finds a much altered young woman. The tale's outline may be unsurprising, but Daugharty, as usual, invests the story with considerable inventiveness, as well as a tough-minded morality. Her resilient characters have an idiosyncratic and convincing reality. A spare, strong addition to Daugharty's portraits of loss and redemption. Read full book review >
WHISTLE by Janice Daugharty
Released: March 1, 1998

A man fleeing sudden trouble inadvertently sets in motion a series of revelations in a small Georgia town. Roper, the black protagonist, is ``short and stringy and gaunt,'' just out of prison after serving time on a drug charge and eager to stay out of harm's way. He's moved back into the decrepit trailer court on the edge of Withers, Georgia, dominated by his mother, Louise, a strong, devout, harried woman harboring a number of secrets, and taken a job with Matt Taylor, a farmer and contractor and one of the area's most powerful men. Things begin to go wrong when Roper stumbles across the body of Taylor's wife in a field he's been told to mow. Terrified that he'll be accused of murder, he hides her body in a nearby well—but does in fact become a suspect when she's reported missing. Then, to Roper's astonishment, Taylor himself is a suspect: It turns out that he has a lover, and that Taylor and his wife have had a series of bitter, and very public, fights. An increasingly panicked Roper is torn between the need to confess to save Taylor and the fear of what will happen if he tells the truth. The corrosive power of secrets, and the double-edged nature of community (often sustaining, but also often constricting), are central themes in Daugharty's fiction (Earl in the Yellow Shirt, 1997 etc.), but this is the first time she's focused on a black southern community. Her portrait of Roper's complex, resilient mother, of his two disaffected young sons Beanie and Bloop, and of his struggling friends and neighbors seems both admiring and exact. And Roper's long battle to do the right thing is handled with considerable subtlety and psychological acuity. Matters are further complicated when the complex blood ties between Roper's family and the Taylors come to light. The moment when Roper finally comes forward is both moving and unadorned, with Daugharty steering clear of melodrama. An ambitious and vivid tale, by an increasingly impressive novelist. Read full book review >
EARL IN THE YELLOW SHIRT by Janice Daugharty
Released: April 2, 1997

An audacious novel, hilarious and moving by turns, offering some sharp and startling variations on southern themes. Daugharty (Pawpaw Patch, 1996, etc.) has always exhibited a special empathy for outsiders and eccentrics. Here, the hardscrabble Scurvy children, down-and-out even by the low standards of Swanoochee County in Georgia, face their greatest challenge to date when they have to come up with the money to bury their mother, who has died soon after giving birth to her fifth child, a girl. The two grown sons, Buck and Pee-Wee, are willing but hobbled by the nature of their lives. Buck is a talented idler. Pee-Wee is a mild-mannered but dedicated drunk. Alamand, only 14, is an extraordinarily gifted artist, usually lost in his imagination. It's left, finally, to Earl, an unlikely hero, to save the family. The laid-back Earl is quietly, thoroughly in love with Loujean and manages, not so much by plan as by pure luck mixed with decency, to get the money, leading to a funeral at which old Scurvy scores with the community are settled, in a scene both wonderfully funny and moving. The story is narrated in the alternating voices of the characters. While all of them are distinctive and convincing (Daugharty has a gift for rendering the pace and color of southern rural speech without making it seem either corny or unbelievably inventive), it's Loujean who stands out. She's bright, despairing, tartly aware of the nature of her family and her life, and quietly determined to do what's right. She accepts, without much complaining, the job of raising her new sister (whom she names Joy- -short for Joyful Noise). Calmly, too, she accepts Earl. In Daugharty's world, women are the only true realists, the ones who know the worst and go on anyway. Another strong, highly original work from one of our most promising, and idiosyncratic, authors. (Regional author tour) Read full book review >
PAWPAW PATCH by Janice Daugharty
Released: April 3, 1996

The enduring prejudices, resentments, and regrets boiling away just beneath the surface of small-town life are given a thorough (and salutary) airing in southern writer Daugharty's provocative new work (Necessary Lies, 1995, etc.). Chanell, a ``sassy, independent, and voluptuous'' beautician in Cornerville, Georgia, turns 40 with no expectation of great changes in her life. Recently shed of her good 'ol boy boob of a husband, she is, if somewhat sardonic, basically comfortable with her routines and with her central role in the community. Chanell knows that in her customer's eyes a beautician, like a preacher, ``is supposed to be perfect—to look good, and act good and make them look good too.'' Suddenly, though, her customers disappear, and everyone seems to be talking about her: She ``could feel their tongues, like knives, slicing through her heart.'' A customer, while doing genealogical research, has discovered that one of Chanell's ancestors was black, and in the South, Daugharty suggests, the great sin is still ``not having been born well.'' Chanell knows that in a town in which one is ``either pitied or damned'' she is no longer a fit subject for pity. Daugharty's portrait of Cornerville, of the uneasy relationships between races, of the seemingly eternal rhythms of lives still spent very close to the land, is memorable and exact: travelling familiar terrain, she makes it fresh again. But she lifts the novel above a sharp-eyed inventory of race relations in her portrait of Chanell, who, at first devastated by her treatment, discovers a wit and self- sufficiency she had been unaware of. Her bold campaign to confront the townspeople, to make them see themselves as they are (aided by one lifelong friend and by a cantankerous elderly lawyer, himself an ``outsider'') is startling, and quite stirring. Life, the lawyer tells Chanell, is about ``how you hold up under the weight of what comes down on you.'' Chanell does so, triumphantly, in this original and unsettling novel. (Regional author tour) Read full book review >
NECESSARY LIES by Janice Daugharty
Released: March 29, 1995

A bleak tale tinged with humor, but sometimes bordering on caricature, of a poor, pregnant girl in the South. It is 1953, and pregnant 11th-grader Cliffie doesn't want to tell her father, who has a bad heart, and who will surely be angry since he has warned both her and her sister Mary Helen to stay away from the father, Roy Harris. What Cliffie knows about sex and men and being a teenager she has culled primarily from magazines: ``She learned that it was typical to be pouty. She fell in love with being typical, vowed she would always be. In love, too.'' Cliffie's blankness is useful, since her naive thoughts can sustain double entendres (``Sleeping with somebody tells a lot,'' she thinks at one point—referring to her sister, not her lover), but it also makes her a rather unconvincing character. She confides her predicament to the family's preacher, Brother Leroy, and when her father asks, ``Who messed you up, gal?'' she directs him to Brother Leroy, whom most of the townspeople soon suspect of being responsible. Daugharty (Going Through the Change, p. 790) infuses all of this with irony, but after a while she seems to be laughing at her characters rather than with them, as when Cliffie exacts revenge on the spiteful Mary Helen by wiping herself in the outhouse with the page from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue where her sister had marked a pair of black ballerina shoes she wanted. Mary Helen too has been messing around with Roy Harris and plans to leave town with him, but before either of the sisters can get her way, tragedy erupts. Although it relies on more than one clichÇ about the American South, the novel's ending is clever. It seems rushed, however, especially since it's the most interesting and active part of the book. Problematic, but perhaps a necessary stage in the development of an interesting young writer. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 12, 1994

Working in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, the author of Dark of the Moon (not reviewed) finds her own, surprisingly fresh perspective. In these 14 stories, Daugharty illuminates changes in the lives of rural folk in the deep South, portraying with wise insight an array of skillfully drawn characters. They include a pistol- packing, fast-thinking single mama who defends her teenage daughters against rape (``Dogs in a Pack''); an elderly babysitter who discovers God has made her responsible for the infants in her charge (``Looking to Miss Sara''); a drained father who finally stands up to his game-playing daughter, who is ``without conscience and incapable of caring'' (``Nightshade''); a black seventh grader who learns about the ``power in silence'' when he is picked against his will to integrate a neighboring all-white school (``Making Beliefs''); and a ``white trash'' girl, expelled from school because of her mixed ancestry, who realizes her father hasn't burned down the courthouse to avenge her ``but to suit hisself'' (``Living Lessons''). These are not pretty stories about pretty people—as one woman says, ``Pretty don't count when you're going through the change''—but the possibility of redemption lies within each of them; ``framed against the heart of the sky, angel faces reeled in carousel colors of pewter and pink.'' The plots deftly unfold as we learn about the characters, whose personalities and motivations are always clear. Daugharty's considered, creative use of language is often astounding and enlightening. Sometimes, however, she treats too casually incidents on which relationships or their disintegration hinge, as when the father in ``Nightshade'' only briefly mentions his manipulative daughter's jilted black lover, whom he and his wife tended and buried after he died of a heroin overdose. Often grim, though not without periodic comic relief, Daugharty's pieces explore the vast range and complexity of human experience with fearlessness, honesty, and compassion. Read full book review >