There’s not enough Southern charm in the world to compensate for the tedium in Dalby’s fourth installment of his Piggly Wiggly series.
Second Creek, Miss., is one of those special small towns that only exist in fiction, in which well-mannered tradition and radicalism are honored equally. In this latest chapter of the saga, Mr. Choppy Dunbar (former owner of the Piggly Wiggly, defunct since the big-box stores arrived out on the interstate) is starting his first term as mayor, and his new wife Gaylie Girl has come up with a plan to revitalize business in the town square—a Christmas Eve performance of the town’s various choirs. The choirs will be perched on the second-story balconies of the square’s historic buildings, a charming scene Gaylie Girl hopes will become a seasonal tradition. The Nitwitts, of which Gaylie Girl is a member, is an organization of senior ladies that get things done, and they are happily handling the arrangements. There are a few dilemmas: Lady Roth insists on singing a solo but is persuaded instead to march the widow’s walk of the courthouse dressed as the star of Bethlehem; one of the town’s black churches refuses to participate; and there is some heated debate as to which choir will perform “O Holy Night.” Everything is going well until a fire destroys half the buildings in the square a week before Christmas. It turns out Gaylie Girl's son may be to blame (he bought and was renovating one of the buildings for an art gallery—a space heater may have started the fire). How will they save the spirit of Christmas? A few subplots wander in and out—Mr. Choppy’s secretary’s baby was born prematurely and is in the NICU; fellow Nitwitt Wittsie is quickly failing from Alzheimer’s; Lady Roth reveals her true colors—but these barely buoy the sinking ship of a plot.
Quaint snapshots of Southern living does not a novel make.