I received this book as a gift either the Christmas before last, or my last birthday, and decided it was time to check it off the old to do list. I have read other books by Rebecca Wells a while ago (8ish years?) and remember enjoying them. She is the author of “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” which is part of the “Ya Ya series” that made the rounds in popular culture and was turned into a feature film in the early 2000s. The series appealed to me as I am a Louisiana native, and Wells captured the female friendship (or at least the mythos of it) that is a popular paradigm of the south, along with our traditions and food. I thought that this book would be like cuddling up under a blanket on a porch with a mint julep, but it was more like Louisiana summer: oppressive with humidity and not at all refreshing.
Calla Lily is the daughter of loving parents in the 1950s in fictional La Luna, Louisiana. With two older brothers and parents who teach dance lessons and a mother who is a hairdresser, they live, laugh and love throughout her childhood. It’s a small town where everyone swings from rope swings, Cajun dances, and black people are only the tiniest bit looked down upon, like in the good ol’ days of fiction, where we can sort of whitewash (pun intended) what it was really like. And that is the crux of my problem with this book. It is just…treacly. It creates an idealistic version of Louisiana that instead of filling me with warmth as I imagine their “aw shucks” lifestyle instead just causes me to roll my eyes. Calla Lily’s mother tells her that the Moon Lady will watch over her, and the Moon Lady has a few chapter intros where she discuses watching over her people…and I just can’t with it. I could deal with the moon lady, I could deal with a version of the south where non-whites have one skirmish that one time, and everything other than that is okay, but both is just too much to stomach. This book also dabbles with a little bit of magical realism, which I enjoy with one of my favorite authors, Sarah Addison Allen, who weaves similar feel good stories in North Carolina. I just think the setting of Louisiana set my teeth on edge. Like trying to watch “True Blood” it is too close to home, but paints it so incorrectly, that I can’t get past it.
The question though is that if I didn’t enjoy it because the book wasn’t good, or if I just am a different person than when I read the first ones, and I am inclined to think it’s me. When I read her other novels I was living away from Louisiana, so I think a certain amount of rose-colored glasses were worn, but now I’m just older and mired in the reality, which is fine, but unwilling to swallow all the sugary goodness that Wells was serving up.