PAWPAW PATCH by Janice Daugharty
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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.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins