We have cats the way most people have mice,"" reports a woman to Thurber's ""Pet Department"" editor. ""I can see you...

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FATAL FLOWERS: On Sin, Sex, and Suicide in the Deep South

We have cats the way most people have mice,"" reports a woman to Thurber's ""Pet Department"" editor. ""I can see you have,"" he replies. ""I can't tell from your communication, however, whether you wish advice or are just boasting."" Poetess Daniell has erotic agonies the way most people have Excedrin headaches, but is she complaining or boasting? This ""communication""--a racy, messy, vivid autobiography--is basically ambiguous. Her story sounds, at first, familiar: up from sexual slavery, the rocky road to liberation, how I almost turned into my mother, but forgave her anyway, etc. Daniell grew up in and around Atlanta just after World War II, a Southern belle and daughter of another Southern belle (her term), obsessed with religion, food, clothes, and sex. Married at 16 to a grunting, beer-bellied redneck, divorced and remarried to a proper bourgeois architect, divorced again and married to an intellectual Jew from New England, three children, innumerable affairs, first stirrings of creativity, lesbian idyll at age 40, her mother's suicide, new beginnings. But Daniell is refreshingly realistic in admitting that she can't just say goodbye to the Georgia version of ""all that."" She still holds on to her childhood world, to the Bible Belt craziness, the chivalric fantasies, the whole neo-Baroque extravaganza she calls ""the Deep South."" Even at its most brutal and grotesque (her father's incestuous caresses, her scorpion-infested apartment, her savage lovers), this world, she thinks, is ultimately richer and realer than anywhere else; and in it, feminist or no, she'll take her stand. The Deep South is terrible to women, but its women are wonderful. (Daniell uses the word ""Southern"" so often and so rhapsodically that readers from north of Baltimore or west of Memphis may be tempted to scream.) Still, if she's often absurd, she's never tiresome. She writes with wit, verve, and hearty vulgarity. She's a generous, perceptive observer, and she captures the sound of Southern voices with effortless accuracy. She tries too hard for exoticism and local color, but her book, for all its clichÉs, is incontestably alive.

Pub Date: April 7, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980