Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Review: Girls in Trucks
Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
Reasons for reading: Southern Challenge II; recommended by Vidalia; my ongoing crush on South Carolina
Book description: Sarah Walters is a less-than-perfect debutante. She tries hard to follow the time-honored customs of the Charleston Camellia Society, as her mother and grandmother did, standing up straight in cotillion class and attending lectures about all the things that Camellias don't do. (Like ride with boys in pickup trucks.) But Sarah can't quite ignore the barbarism just beneath all that propriety, and as soon as she can she decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she and her fellow displaced Southern friends try to make sense of city sophistication, to understand how much of their training applies to real life, and how much to the strange and rarefied world they've left behind. When life's complications become overwhelming, Sarah returns home to confront with matured eyes the motto "Once a Camellia, always a Camellia"- and to see how much fuller life can be, for good and for ill, among those who know you best.
First line: "If you are white, are a girl or boy between the ages of nine and twelve, and, according to a certain committee of mothers, are good enough to associate with Charleston's other good girls and boys, then Wednesday night is a busy night for you."
My thoughts: The word that came to mind as I started reading this book was crackling. It's sharp and witty and not at all fluffy. I definitely recommend it, but don't expect typical chick lit.
The book is mostly about Sarah, but some chapters focus on her fellow Camellias - Bitsy, who married a rich cheater; Annie, a fat girl who seems to get men solely via cooking and blow jobs; and Charlotte, the heroin addict. Sarah is not particularly likeable - she drinks and smokes pot too much (like, right before her sister's wedding), she's addicted to cruel men, she's unambitious, and she's not a great friend. I wanted to shake some sense into her as she kept messing up her life over and over again. It made me think perhaps the belles should've stayed down South.
And as I was reading the description of the Southern belle's transition when she goes up North to college (she suppresses her accent, wears beaten-up clothes instead of the dresses her mother packed, hooks up briefly with boys rather than expecting regular dates) and how she's happy to shed the South, I couldn't believe it because I'm so very intrigued by the South and (okay, on the basis of my Charleston visit) would love to live there! These days everything northern seems so drab, cold, charmless, and impolite to me. (And I would love for my eventual children to have drawls, y'all!) But my friend Vidalia, who was a full-fledged debutante, explained to me that it's about escaping from the constraints and constant pressure of a society where you're expected to be a Camellia or deb or member of the Junior League. So, I guess I can see that. And the young do always want to escape from their parents' world.
So does Sarah escape, that's the question. She is "always a Camellia," but New York is now part of her, as well. The ending isn't a cut-and-dried, happy one, but it has some hope and at that moment, things are good. And for a crackling but not fluffy book, that's sometimes the best ending you can hope for.