#130 ~ The Front Porch Prophet

December 13, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Books, Culture | 9 Comments
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The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

When you pick up a good novel written about the south by a Southern author, you can tell.  There is just something about that area and the writers it creates that is unique, remarkable and gorgeous.  Had William Faulkner, Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell not been from the south, their novels would not be remembered today.  Had a writer with equal skill but who grew up outside of the south written To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel would have been condescending and the characters a mere stereotype.  Atticus would have inevitably been a Yankee and Boo Radley would have been nothing more than a sideshow freak resulting from inbreeding. It took a southerner to shed light on the southern life in such an honest, warm and loving way.  Atkins does just that in his debut novel.

The Front Porch Prophet tells the story of A.J. Longstreet, a man who lost his mother at birth.  He was raised in Sequoya, Georgia by his father and grandmother and he became an honorable man with a loving wife and three children, all named after authors.  He loved his family and his home, but was unfulfilled in his job supervising at the local mill.  He was content to stay where he was until he reconciled with his life-long friend, Eugene Purdue.  Eugene, who grew up in an unhappy marriage and had a seemingly never ending wild streak, learned that he had terminal cancer.  He asked A.J. to come up to visit him up on his mountain to make amends and to ask him to do the unthinkable – put him out of his misery when the time came.  A.J. had no intentions of killing Eugene, but he agreed to visit him regularly.  The rekindled friendship brings up old memories, both good and bad.  As he aids, supports,  comforts and helps Eugene find the redemption he is seeking through his last days, A.J. is forced to reconsider his beliefs and look at what truly makes him feel whole and happy.

When bad things happen to Southerners, they don’t lose their sense of humor.   You are never truly defeated so long as you don’t stop laughing at yourself.  Atkins breathes life into this world.  He writes of A.J. and Eugene’s lives with an easy sarcastic wit that is authentically Southern.  A.J. and Eugene are not the only characters in Sequoya, either.  The signs displayed in the window of the town’s only restaurant that is owned by a born again Christian are hilarious and ingenious.  By far, my favorite feature of this novel were the snippets of the letters Eugene wrote and sent out to the people of Sequoya after his death.  They appear at the beginning of each chapter, but they reflect back up the previous chapter.  His letter to the town sheriff still has chuckling when I think about it.   As it is,  is I quickly lost count of the times I laughed out loud while reading this novel.

As much as I loved the books humor, what stays with me from The Front Porch Prophet is its message about the enduring power of friendship and forgiveness.  It made me happy to be human.  For all of our weaknesses, we have the ability to overcome them and make them right.  This is a novel I will be reading again many times.  It promises to hold something new each time I read it.  This may very well be my favorite novel of 2008.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Have you read this novel?  I’d love to hear what you think.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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#48 ~ The Ice Queen

November 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Family, Sexual Identity | 1 Comment
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The Ice Queen: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Something I’ve never really warmed up to in general fiction is not naming the narrator. I suppose that author’s have their reasons. I might by it in circumstances where the reader could be the narrator or “anyone” could be the narrator. This is not the case in The Ice Queen, the story of a young woman who is plagued by relationships with other people after she wished her mother to never come home the night her mother’s car runs off the road and kills her. I don’t believe that this narrator could be “anyone,” so this narrative device doesn’t work for me. It frustrates me instead. That being said, I enjoyed reading this book and exploring the narrator’s world (henceforth referred to as Jane).

As I read the beginning of this book, I felt very much for Jane. As a child,who didn’t have negative “wishes” or thoughts about one’s parents from time to time? How would your life be different had your parent died before you saw them again? Jane simply determined that she was a selfish and unlovable soul. She became introverted and obsessed with death. Jane finds that she is a good listener and only has a series of casual sexual affairs throughout her life. As soon as a suitor indicates that he wants more than sex, she ends the relationship.

Jane and Ned, her older brother, were taken in by their maternal grandmother after the car accident. They were close as children. Jane grows up loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales while Ned prefers the scientific. He becomes a meteorologist and moves to Florida to work at Orlon University, the school at which his wife is also a professor. Jane remains in New Jersey. She becomes a research librarian and takes care of their grandmother. Although they haven’t remained close, Ned convinces Jane to move to Florida with him after their grandmother’s passing. On the way down there, Jane makes a near fatal wish to be struck by lighting. It didn’t take long for her wish to become reality.

This book explores how lives are impacted by one single factor. This story was an interesting story within which to wonder “what would happen if.” I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her brother and sister-in-law. Her struggles with friendships and adult relationships felt true to her. This may not be a story that will live with me forever o even next year, but I enjoyed my time in this world. It is a pleasant read. Everyone wishes for one of those every now and again.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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