Old murder haunts a rural Georgia community, in a debut from TV writer and soap actress Shaffer.
Some think the three Margarets know what happened—but the old ladies said all they had to say a long time ago. A New York journalist working on a book about the world-famous scientist Vashti Johnson, who grew up in Charles Valley, picks up Laurel McReady, a major-haired divorcée with a big mouth, at a bar and gets her to explain. She starts with the story of L’il Bit (a.k.a. Margaret Elizabeth), the hopelessly plain, too-tall, galumphing daughter of Harrison Banning III, whose radical politics and NAACP membership scandalized everyone in town. Then there’s Dr. Maggie, an in-the-closet lesbian, whose do-gooding knows no color. (Maggie’s childhood friend Lottie was black, and Maggie never got over her guilt about getting a fine education when Lottie couldn’t.) These two befriended the much-younger Peggy, a white-trash goddess, after she was raped by Grady Garrison, a brute whose rich parents always indulged him. Later, she married Grady’s father, old Dalton Garrison, who never knew about the rape until years after their May-December union. Moving right along, Laurel explains that her ne’er-do-well father died mysteriously on the same night as Richard Johnson, who married Lottie’s daughter Nella. Richard Johnson, black and proud in a way that got white folks riled, was run over after an altercation with Grady, apparently over the favors of sweet but stupid Nella, who left town with her own daughter, Vashti, shortly thereafter. The three Margarets saw to Vashti’s education, and the smart little girl grew up to become a brilliant scientist. But she came back home, dying of brain cancer, to commit suicide, and it’s been whispered that the three Margarets were there when she did. Eventually, Laurel gets out the whole story of the three old ladies, in mind-boggling detail.
First fiction endangered by a life-threatening case of exposition.