Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Falling Women and Other Stories -- Ellen Herbert

SOURCE: ARC provided by the publisher

Back in college, one of my lit professors defined Southern writing as the literature where locale was as much a character as the protagonist and the antagonist. In the case of Falling Women and Other Stories', dozen delightful tales, most take place around the small fictional town of Braxton, North Carolina where sinners are outcast, but prodigals are welcomed with mostly open arms.

This is a content-rich volume which allows readers to explore the town from the bottom to the top of the social ladder. For example, in the title story, readers see that two entirely different sisters from good family can "fall" from the esteem of the Southern Baptist run community for entirely different reasons.

These tales aren't entirely about the fall. Triumph over loss and fear abounds. In "Yellow Sneakers," a mother who's afraid she's losing the love of her noncustodial son regains that relationship on a basketball court. "To Hold, But Not Touch" takes place years after "The World as I Know It." Vera, the older sister who nearly drowned as a child, must face her fear of water when her own son goes out for the swim team.

Through these stories, we meet many of the town's characters from the mayor, who runs off with an underage cheerleader, to the alcoholic widow of the town's pharmacist. It's an interesting puzzle to put all the pieces together and realize how connected everyone is in this community. The only element I could find lacking might be an explanation of all the characters' relationships, but that might take the fun out of figuring it out for yourself. All are drawn with empathy and occasional amusement. We also see the homes and businesses evolve through the years. Reading these stories, it's clear to this reviewer why most won awards and the collection won Ms. Herbert a fellowship.

Ms. Herbert has a novel in the works, which I am genuinely anticipating.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, February 2012

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