Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress

Mark Childress is funny. At least his books suggest that he is because they are chock full of fun and entertainment and I have never finished one of them without a grin on my face. This is not to say that they are shallow or mindless. It's just that they will keep you happily barreling along the pages with his wacky but delightful characters even as they touch on darker concerns; here these concerns are racism and sexuality, complacency and image.

Georgia Bottoms is keeping secrets. Her well-respected family's money long gone, she must support her aging mother and her alcoholic brother who can't seem to stay on the right side of the law as well as send what she can afford to an address out of state for reasons not immediately explained. But just how does a charming, ladylike Southern belle can go about this? Why, she discreetly takes on lovers who come to her once a week and leave her monetary "gifts" for the privilege of her company of course. Georgia manages to keep each of her lovers from knowing about the others, hide her trysts from the town and her mother, and keep up the appearance of goodness that she has cultivated for so long until the preacher's wife discovers just exactly where he has been spending his Saturday nights. The trouble headed off at the pass, Georgia resumes her life, influencing town politics from behind the scenes, organising her annual ladies' tea, and struggling against her mother's creeping dementia and increasing racism. But the dam has broken, the world has changed (9/11 happens during the course of the novel), and some of Georgia's best kept secrets are about to be exposed.

Georgia is a performer, acting a role not only with each of her lovers but also acting the role of dutiful daughter, responsible sister, paragon of Southern gentility, pillar of the community, and town darling. She really hasn't had time to figure out who she actually is and it's not until she comes face to face with her past that she has to reach down inside herself and find the kernel of the real person she actually is without regard to what others expect.

The plot here is unique and the characters are wonderful. Georgia is charming and delightful and the reader roots for her the entire story, even when she is being intentionally obtuse. Her heart is generally in the right place and the situations in her life are highly entertaining. The story and everything about it is humorous with just the right amount of sass and verve thrown in to make it incredibly appealing. The story keeps moving at a good, consistent pace and ending is about perfect. I wish we could go along with Geogia and see what's next for her. She is a steel magnolia if ever there was one. Fans of Southern fiction have a gem waiting for them in this one.

For more information about Mark Childress and the book, including an interactive tour of Six Points, be sure to visit his webpage. There's also a link there to Childress' tour schedule, which mostly canvasses the south but offers an appearance or two in Yankee-land too. I plan to go to the tour stop by me and see if he's as entertaining in person as he is on the page.

Thanks to Little, Brown for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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