Disclaimer on this one: I was very pre-disposed to like this book because a friend wrote it. I first met the author, Patti Meredith, 25-ish years ago when we worked at SCETV. I remember having lunch together early on when she came to work there, and she told me she had a novel in her. I was impressed, awed and intimidated. I don’t know if this is THE book she was referring to then, but it was worth the wait.
I pre-ordered the book the minute it was available and my copy arrived the day before we left for a 2-week trip. While I typically no longer travel with a hard copy book, this one provided me with many hours of delight. Plus, the book made it back so I can now share it with friends (at least friends who don’t mind dog-eared and marked up pages where I scribbled around the sentences that were just too good not to go back and read again).
South of Heaven by Patti Frye Meredith
For anyone who is southern by birth or has moved to the south, passed through the south, yearned for the south or just wondered about the south, this book gives voice to southern realities and complexities of family, loss, love and redemption with twists of stories and delightful turns of words.
The storyline centers around two sisters in central North Carolina. Leona moved to Raleigh as a young bride, and Fern remained in their fictional hometown of Carthage that seems to be an ambulance-ride distance from nearby Southern Pines.
Leona took the “expected” path to marry well, live well and raise pretty children. Fern, well, she was forced onto a different path. I’m intentionally avoiding too much detail about their divergent circumstances because it would take the fun out of reading the book. Suffice it to say, we all know our share of Ferns and Leonas.
And while I loved the plot twists that moved at a leisurely pace between the sisters’ young lives in the late ‘60s and their secret-stocked adult lives in the 90s, the best part of this book is the writer’s clever, yet deliberate, use of southernisms. Patti’s writing subtly lets a southerner know she’s been there, done that, (having grown up in Galax, VA, and lived all over the south as an adult), but her phrasing won’t scare off someone not familiar with these charming turns of words by sounding stilted or fake.
Here’s a sample of a few of my favorites:
“Leona walked in the front door and Fern’s good sense stepped out back for a cigarette.”
“Folks around here like things on the straight and narrow. Tobacco rows. Fairways. People. Faith.”
“Lord help my time of day.”
Then, Patti intertwines this endearing phrasing with casual mentions of food we southerners know so well. What good southerner hasn’t had watermelon rind pickles served on a cut glass pickle tray, BBQ sandwiches from The Pig, and casseroles with Ritz cracker crusts from the local Junior League cookbook. Are you hooked yet?
This story involves falls and redemptions, sagging clotheslines, busybodies, homebodies, social strictures, outcasts and a few emus thrown in for good measure. I’m happy to lend my copy to anyone who wants to read this lovely book – you’ll just have to get on the waiting list.
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