Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: My Summer of Southern Discomfort

My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle
3 stars

Reasons for reading: spotted it on our new books shelf at the library and liked the title; Southern book for the Triple 8 Challenge

Book description:
Convicting arsonists and thieves in Macon, Georgia, was never Harvard Law grad Natalie Goldberg's dream. The pay is abysmal, the work is exhausting, and the humidity is hell for a woman with curly hair. But when a steamy romance with her high-powered New York boss went bad, Natalie jumped at the first job offered, packed her bags, and headed south. Natalie's leftist Yankee background brands her a conspicuous outsider in this insular community. Her father, a famous civil rights lawyer, refuses to accept her career change—or talk to her. Her best friend begs her to come back home, and Natalie keeps thinking she sees her former lover everywhere. But Natalie's not completely alone. There are a garden-obsessed neighbor, a former beauty queen–turned–defense attorney, and a handsome colleague who has a nervous tic whenever she gets near. And then there's a capital case that has her eating antacids by the truckload. Yep, it's going to be one heckuva long, hot summer. . . .

First line: "I don't know why she swallowed the lye, " the boy sings, emphasis on "don't."

My thoughts:
While it wasn't an earth-shaker, this book was a good, quick read with a lot of Southern flavour.

It was also one of the few Southern books I've read that really mentions race constantly and also casually. It's not a source of conflict or anything, it's just a fact of life. In Macon, the population is so predominantly black that Natalie feels like even more of an outsider and, as her former Miss Georgia aquaintance tells her friends, "Nat is a Yankee and therefore sensitive to such matters." And Natalie agrees, "A product of New England liberalism, I was taught it was a matter discussed in the classroom, not outside." Unlike many books where either everyone is white or nobody has a colour, many of the characters' are specifically described with varying dark skin tones, which I found rather novel .

The main focus of the plot is the capital case that Nat is assigned to as co-counsel - as if she wasn't having enough trouble fitting into her new Southern firm, she's adamantly against the death penalty. Yet she's equally adamant about wanting to prove her can help win such a big criminal case, especially to the obnoxious lead attorney who she's convinced thinks she should get back to New York where she belongs.

I particularly enjoyed what it had to say about finding a home - sometimes it can take a while, sometimes it's not what you expected at all, but you know when you find it and it feels good.

1 comment:

maggie moran said...

You are reading extra credit, now! :D The book sounds wonderful and I will look for it next visit to the library. Describing a person shouldn't be considered racist, but yet we have a problem with the wording. I'm thrilled this author has worked through those issues.