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In one of her front-porch sermons spoken from the pulpit of her rocker, Miss Ella had told him that if anger ever took root, it latched on, dug in, and choked the life out of whatever heart was carrying it. Turned out she was right, because now the vines were forearm-thick and formed an inflexible patchwork around his heart. Tucker's too. Mutt was bad, but maybe Tuck's was the worst. Like a hundred-year-old wisteria, the vine had split the rock that once protected it. (p. 7)
The reader is introduced to Miss Ella in the lower-cased Roman numeral pages of the preface, and she continues to speak to her young charges throughout the narrative. , by Charles Martin (copyright 2005, WestBow Press), takes us into the troubled South and chews us up on the scenery, the dialect's drawl, the humidity of late October. Mutt and Tucker Mason are raised in their father's home by Miss Ella, a young (in the beginning) black woman hired as a housekeeper but expected to be their nanny. She takes the responsibility as she seems to do everything else: doing her best, pleasing the Lord, teaching them from her own experience and from those who've taught her. The boys' father, Rex Mason, is evidently rich and important, inferiority feeding self-indulgence and greed - too rich and too important to be expected to live at home raising young'uns. When he is home, his own demons get the best of him, and anger and alcohol lash out at everyone in the house, Miss Ella included.

With a style that flowed as two parts Grisham and one part Faulkner, Martin draws the reader in with first person narrative for Tuck, flashback chapters, third-person observation of other characters and a very descriptive and engaging prose. His descriptions of Clark's, a typical southern creekside seafood joint, actually made me hungry while laughing at how I've been in places just like that. New characters are introduced for story-flow, but the main thread of Mutt's escape from the mental hospital and Tuck's journey back through his own repressed memories, along with Miss Ella's steady guidance even years after passing away, is what feeds this story and keeps the reader turning pages.

Martin's first novel, The Dead Don't Dance, has already been adapted for a Hallmark movie to be broadcast in the future. This second novel would make a good solid movie, too, if not a two-night mini-series. The reader is drawn to the characters, drawn to the scenery, drawn to the unfolding story - all that's needed for a deep and challenging summer novel.


Blogger Dee said...

Great review

Christian fiction dot blogspot dot com

5/7/05 1:10 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

thanks - good book, easy to review :)

5/7/05 7:34 AM  

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