An often charming collection of short stories that proves there’s more to Southern ladies than Scarlett O’Hara stereotypes.
In her debut, Henry serves up a healthy dose of Southern humor and style, with 18 lively stories that cleverly turn conventional ideas about Southern womanhood on their heads. Here are heroines who aren’t always graceful, polite, and hyperfeminine, nor are they always full of quick-witted sass. Instead, they’re flawed and often misunderstood but still hopeful. In one story, an awkward high school girl embarks on an odd, mostly one-sided flirtation with her school’s star basketball player; in another, a young woman loses an eye in a hunting accident. The low-country setting of coastal South Carolina and Georgia is integral to each of these stories, which often explore the tension between tradition-bound Southern natives and the region’s newcomers. Still, Henry’s characters face dilemmas that are universal. “Hell Hole Swamp Queen” is a standout: a tale of a disaffected college student who’s roped into participating in a quirky beauty pageant by her domineering grandmother. It’s a subtle look at how small events affect people’s lives in the most unexpected ways. “Leap for Joy” delves into an unusual friendship between a pair of middle-aged schoolteachers. However, a few of the stories, while still intriguing, are too slight. In “Flown Away,” for example, a woman’s husband moves into a treehouse in their backyard for reasons that are never entirely clear, either to his wife or readers. The book’s opener, “The Seduction of Miss Sestina,” is built around an intriguing premise: a single lady of certain age marries a mysterious out-of-towner after a whirlwind courtship, only to discover that (surprise!) he has a secret. But the husband remains more of an idea than a true character, and it’s hard to believe that Sestina, a conservative spinster, would be swept off her feet in such a way—or that her friends wouldn’t put the brakes on the obviously ill-advised union.
Tales told with a fresh, sensitive voice and likely to appeal to readers who appreciate Southern culture in all its myriad forms.