Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

Some things just can't be believed and Southern literature in particular is chock full of such things. Characters are zany; events are outlandish. Or is it that characters are outlandish and events are zany? Either way, the hallmark of fun southern fiction is pure wacky. Amy Hill Hearth's novel Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society has over the top and wacky in spades.

When Dora Witherspoon, who rescues turtles and works at the Post Office is caught leafing through the only copy of Vogue magazine to ever come through the Naples, Florida post office by it's rightful owner, Jackie Hart, they strike up a conversation. Jackie is new to town, a Yankee in a very southern enclave. She's bored and doesn't fit into this town her husband has moved her to so she decides to start up a book club at the library. The oddly eclectic bunch who show up for the first meeting are all town outsiders of one sort or another. There's Dora, who is divorced; the librarian; a plain woman who secretly writes steamy romances and sexy articles for magazines; an elderly woman convicted of killing her husband and newly released from prison; a literate young, black maid with dreams of higher education, and the only homosexual man in town who also happens to live with his alligator hunting mother. The only thing any of these people have in common is their outsider status and their interest in the book club and yet they come together as friends and partners in crime on some truly crazy, sometimes scary adventures.

The novel is set in 1962 but it is told from the perspective of Dora fifty years on, now in her 80s. She recounts the group's formation and slow bonding plus the roiling tensions in town that particular summer through the lens of Jackie's non-native lack of understanding. There's the ongoing mystery of what really did happen to Bailey's husband and the not really a mystery of who Miss Dreamsville, the sultry sounding radio personality who keeps the town captivated, is. The group also has a scary run-in with the local KKK and Jackie's young son is arrested as a suspected Communist. The tone of the book is light as fits a goofy caper style novel but it actually has some weightier issues than it appears at first blush from prejudice and racial hatred to the expected role of women and the embracing of "othernesss." The characters aren't always fully fleshed out and the situations are definitely over the top but the breezy telling of the tale keeps the reader turning the pages even as she shakes her head at the crazy.

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