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Wednesday, 27 September 2017 15:44

Miss Julia’s saga is well worth the read

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Miss Julia Springer lives in a small town near Asheville, where she is mourning the death of her husband of 44 years and trying to settle his affairs, including the enormous estate he has left her. On this particular hot day in August, Miss Julia — she goes by this title despite her long marriage — discovers that she has one last affair to face: her husband’s years-long adultery with Hazel Marie Puckett, a scandalous relationship known to nearly everyone in town except for Miss Julia.

She becomes aware of her husband’s infidelity only when his mistress, Hazel Marie Plunkett, rings her doorbell, informs her that the skinny bespeckled nine year old boy at her side is Wesley Lloyd’s son, that she is off to beauty school in Raleigh, and that she will return in six weeks to reclaim her son. She then dashes off to her car and speeds away, leaving Miss Julia stunned and Wesley Lloyd Junior weeping on the porch.

So begins Ann B. Ross’s novel Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2000, 273 pages). Before taking a look at this comedy, let me explain the publication date. Most books reviewed here in The Smoky Mountain News are relatively new, and I could have reviewed Ross’s latest Miss Julia Weathers The Storm, which is the seventeenth novel in the saga of Miss Julia and which made its way into print just this year. It made more sense, however, to read the first volume of this series that, I confess, was completely unfamiliar to me.

To return to the book: Miss Julia, a devout Presbyterian, an upright Southern lady, and a childless woman who has devoted her life to her husband and home, now faces other dilemmas besides Wesley Lloyd Junior. Her minister claims that Wesley Lloyd Senior had wanted to leave a wad of money to the church, a fortune with which he intends to build a family life center. Some of Hazel Marie Plunkett’s relatives, including a crooked preacher named Brother Vern, also want to avail themselves of Miss Julia’s fortune.

Meanwhile, assisted by Lillian, who is her maid, cook, and best friend, by Deputy Bares, who rents a room in her home, and by Sam, a close friend who has always loved her from afar, Miss Julia must contend with the sad-faced little boy fathered by her husband and the scandal raised by his sudden appearance. Though she first fears that her reputation is forever ruined, Miss Julia decides to face up to the townspeople and acknowledge forthrightly that the boy she takes to the barbershop and shopping for clothes is the progeny of her stiff-backed husband.

The paragraphs above sound stiff-backed themselves, given that Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind is one of the more amusing books I’ve read in a good while. The scene where Miss Julia, Lillian, and Hazel must abduct Wesley Lloyd Junior from Brother Vern, who has himself kidnapped Wesley; the moment when the sixtyish Miss Julia fears she has become a nymphomaniac once that disorder is explained to her; the machinations of Pastor Ledbetter: these and a dozen other incidents should keep readers chuckling throughout the story.

Miss Julia, the story’s narrator, provides most of these laughs. As she proceeds to handle one disaster after another, she not only speaks her mind, but also grows a spine. She sticks up for herself and the new people in her life — Hazel and Wesley Lloyd — and by her wit and sharp tongue demolishes her enemies and entertains the rest of us.

Ann B. Ross lives and writes in Hendersonville. Her eighteenth Miss Julia novel, Miss Julia Raises The Roof, is due for release in April 2018.

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In The Letter (Headline Publishing Group, 2013, 396 pages), British author Kathryn Hughes gives readers parallel stories of love and connection. Tina Craig works in an office and volunteers on her days off in a charity shop, mostly to avoid her alcoholic, abusive husband.

Half a century earlier, in the months just before World War II breaks out, Billy Sterling falls in love with Chrissie, the daughter of a loving mother and a doctor who rules his family with an iron rod. Despite the doctor’s hatred of him, Billy pursues Chrissie. When she becomes pregnant, the doctor explodes, sending his daughter into exile and banning Billy from the house. Billy persists in his attempts to see Chrissie, finally writing her a letter explaining how much he loved her.

This is the letter that Tina finds unopened in the pocket of an old jacket in the charity shop. She breaks the seal, reads the letter, and decides to try and hunt down its author, Billy Sterling. Her adventures and trials — her marriage has its ups and downs during this search — test her persistence to the limit, lead her into a friendship with a young American, and teach her the meaning of love as opposed to what her husband claims to feel for her.

To say more would spoil the story for readers. Suffice it to say that this magical tale of love and of connections made and missed contains entertaining twists in the plot and some thought-provoking ideas about fate and circumstance.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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