Hearth’s cast of quirky small-town Southern misfits returns to tackle new challenges in this sequel to her debut novel (Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society, 2012).
Literary Society member Eudora “Dora” Welty Witherspoon has been living in Jackson, Missississippi, for several months, researching her family’s history, when she receives a telegram summoning her home to Naples, Florida. Returning posthaste, she learns her ex-husband, Darryl Norwood, is developing a housing estate that threatens to disturb the ecosystem and displace a number of residents, including former stripper-turned-alligator hunter Dolores Simpson. Dora tries to reason with Darryl but fails to make headway, so her old book club friends rush to her aid. Transplanted Bostonian Jackie Hart, known among Neapolitans as Miss Dreamsville, is outraged that Darryl has usurped her moniker and dubbed the development Dreamsville Estates. She airs her displeasure in a column for the local newspaper and reminds citizens that the ghost of a Native American who was killed by European settlers allegedly haunts the disputed land. Jackie’s editorial wins over some readers, but her words don’t stop Darryl. Amid moments of soul-searching and surprising revelations, the friends coordinate an alternate plan to save the property. As they take action, Dora contemplates information she uncovers about her family; Dolores reflects upon past decisions and longs for the return of her son, who’s living in New York City; and, acutely aware that they’re defying convention, two more book club members care for another’s infant while she attends college in a distant city. Hearth’s sound writing and wit create a pleasant diversion despite superficial attempts to introduce subject matter relevant to Southern society in the '60s and beyond. Her inclusion of topics ranging from racial injustice and single parenthood to economic development vs. environmental protection might have enriched the narrative and propelled it to the next level, but, sadly, these themes are never wholly integrated into the plot.
Although the book falls short of fulfilling its potential, Hearth delivers a mildly amusing story featuring a wealth of eccentric characters.