Solidly written though unexceptional first novel about a mother and her four daughters fighting for respect in an Alabama town.
Hattie Bohannon, owner of the only truck-stop in Maridoches (and the place for Gert’s special brand of high-fat cooking) is putting her life back together after the death of her husband a few years before. Testing the dating waters with Sheriff Paul Dodd, Hattie is trying to move past mourning despite the lack of closure—the VA has “misplaced” her late husband’s remains, though that’s a small concern considering that Hattie’s oldest daughter, Jessamine (the true mother of Hattie’s youngest “daughter,” Heather) is having an affair with a married man. When the guilty husband confesses his sins at the Church of the Holy Resurrection, Hattie and daughters are branded as harlots and the truck-stop declared a hotbed of sin. The Reverend Peterson, plagued by erotic fantasies of fat, middle-aged Gert and thrown out of bed by his newly feminist wife, who has taken to painting portraits of snakes, begins a campaign to shut down the truck-stop café, while a group of church businessmen plan to build a Christian steakhouse in its place. This brand of southern novel, packed with down-home eccentrics, is often dependent on the strength of its characters, but neither Hattie nor her daughters are ever as interesting as the bit players—Gert, the Reverend’s wife, strange old Jewell Miller, who has stolen Oakley Bohannon’s ashes—leaving what transpires for the Bohannon women not half as compelling as it should be. Town gossip is vicious, and soon the three older Bohannon girls rebel in their own ways, Jessamine joining the church and becoming born again (though right after the baptism she sleeps with Sheriff Dodd), Darla joining the Army, and Connie nearly killing a man. Hattie is vindicated by end, even though the Christian steakhouse rises from the ashes of the truck-stop.
High drama, low impact.