A historical novel offers a collection of stories about life, love, and family in the rural South.
Evangeline “Vangie” Tanner has returned to her girlhood home in Collins, Mississippi, to mourn the loss of her beloved father. While digging through her memory box, Vangie uncovers an assortment of knickknacks that trigger sweet and poignant recollections of her childhood. Her memories are a window to the past, small moments that allow glimpses of larger social issues through a child’s eyes. There is ample humor throughout the novel, as Vangie recalls incidents such as her father slapping the preacher after the man startled him awake. There’s a thread of nostalgia as well, as Vangie muses on first dates and crazy relatives. But the cozy reflections do not mask the darker realities of a Southern community in mid-20th-century America. Women are expected to “get married and have a passel of children.” An African-American youth named Willie T. Clifford breaks off his friendship with Vangie because of their differing skin colors. The story about Rachel Katz, Vangie’s Jewish neighbor, is particularly striking. When Miss Rachel is attacked for her Jewish heritage, the neighbors murmur about the shame of it all. Vangie astutely observes the display of hypocrisy by most residents of Collins who refuse to take responsibility. This charming novel, a 2017 Faulkner Finalist, goes down like sweet tea on a warm summer night, a glass of refreshment and comfort. Pittman (Pony Tales, 2014, etc.) is an evocative writer. Her characters are well-defined, springing to life from the page in witty conversations and vibrant descriptions. Each story could stand alone, though they are all tied together through Vangie’s memory box. And each tale moves Vangie’s own life forward, eventually landing the small-town girl in Europe, where she discovers her future path. The author admirably balances the lightness of some stories with heavier themes of race, religion, heritage, and family.
A memorable look at the joys and tribulations of growing up in a small town during a bygone era.