Sunday, March 13, 2011

Y'all Just Ain't That Charmin'

Full disclosure on this one, I kind of cheated.  My books were due on Thursday, and this one had holds on it so I couldn't renew it.  Now it wasn't like I was dead-set keen on reading this book - I just grabbed it off the shelf when I went browsing for the first time in a while - but, you know, once I get something out, I like to give it a whirl.  So  I was debating if I should return it and forget about it, return it and put it on hold, or keep it out a day extra and finish it.  I went to, read the reviews, and decided to keep it and finish it, wasting $.25 but okay.  But of course, then I had already read the reviews, and if you think I'm above being biased by someone else's opinion... well, you're wrong, that's all :)

But let's pretend I just read the book without hearing any outside opinion first... I'm pretty sure it would have been much the same anyway.  The book in question is Saving Cee-Cee Honeycutt, but Beth Hoffman.  It's pretty and floral, all pink, purple and green.  And that's not just the cover.  Cee-Cee Honeycutt is a twelve-year-old girl whose mother is severely mentally ill. So not exactly a happy childhood.  But then her mother dies, and Cee-Cee goes south to live with her great-aunt Tootie in Savannah Geo-gah.  The rest of the book... well I suppose it's about saving, as the title suggests, but it mostly seems like a celebration of Southern cliches to me.  I'm not one to care much about plot, but I must say I was impressed by the complete lack of one here.  The book jumps from incident to anecdote, each one charming, amusing, or poignant in its own way (or some combination of the three of course).  It's pretty amazing actually - just when you think there's going to be some follow through, the previous chapter's storyline gets resolved and we get treated to something new.

I'm sure you asking, but would you complain about that? It's not like I've ever complained about light and easy stories, and I did describe this one as charming and amusing.  Well, first of all, that charming and amusing was more a description of the what the book (or the author) thinks of itself, not necessarily how I feel.  But, it's true, at times, even most of the time, there was a lot to enjoy in this not very deep novel.  So why are you detecting a slightly sardonic note in my faint praise? Because even though I'm just fine with a book that wants to do nothing but amuse and entertain, I think this book aspires to more than that.  This is a book that wants to do two things - examine the healing process of a child coming from a broken home and celebrate the bright and bountiful world that was the old South.  As far as the latter goes, I don't believe a word of it - the South wasn't this kind and gentlemanly paradise, where (almost) all the women are good and loving.  And I'm not even talking about the ugly racial and economic divides.  Even within the privileged upper class that Tootie rules, it wasn't all coming up roses all the time.  And while I don't mind being fed a little feel-good myth once in a while (not at all actually), this was more like a binge-worthy onslaught of fluffy fairy tales.

But at least as far as the South goes, the book does a good enough job of potraying it as intended.  My far greater objection was to the more serious lost childhood storyline.  First of all, I'm not going to disagree that a girl who grew up with a mother who seemed to be severely bipolar, and certainly very mentally unwell, is in need of a lot of help and loving.  But Cee-Cee, who tells the story first person, does not exhibit very much damage at all.  She's kind of quiet and in amazement about all the good bestowed her, but the most of the hints that all is not well come from overheard conversations between Tootie and her cook, Oletta.  I don't get very worried about Cee-Cee, and my heart therefore just can't get that warmed at her eventual blossoming.  And I just can't get into all the pseudo-significant events along the way either.  There's a death, a racial episode, an endangered hummingbird... each one treating with all due pathos in its turn, and all undue pathos too.  I can't count the number of times where *something* happened.  It was then that... it was that... that was the... let me tell you something, girl, if everything that happens is a revelation, ain't nothin' much left covered.  Basically, I couldn't go far just enjoying the story before some annoyingly maudlin or tremblingly stupendous *moment* interrupted.  With all that, I did manage to finish it pretty fast, so it wasn't all that hard to get through... I guess

Verdict: 2.5/5

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