Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why it really doesn't feel like work

I sit on the sofa and I read one novel after another: good novels with bad bits, bad novels with good bits, good novels in whose subject matter I have no interest and bad novels whose subject matter interests me very much. The bottom line is not judgement (even though as a reviewer it is my job to judge, at least up to a point) but rather analysis and discovery: what works, in fiction, and what does not. And how, and why. If I ever get the time to write a novel of my own I will come to the task equipped with a vast armoury of brilliant models and cautionary tales.

Working through the pile, I come to a novel of almost 500 pages that is more sugary than all the iced tea in the whole of Louisiana, where it is set. But there is one irresistible quality that has kept me reading for over 300 pages and will sustain me to the end: an almost magical lust and passion for dancing, singing, eating, drinking, colour, life and beauty that never seems to desert the people of Louisiana, black or white, urban or rural, rich or poor, despite the residual dark horrors of the South and even when life has been blasted by a natural disaster that an indifferent, incompetent government can't or won't deal with adequately. It's a quality that mesmerised me in the first blog I ever followed properly.

(And one that I saw again in the Louisiana blogs (now sadly defunct) of the amazing Liz from Granny Gets a Vibrator, miraculously still well three years after the killer cancer and, though no longer blogging AFAIK, still findable as Wachendorfia on Flickr for those of you who miss her.)

And I have been rewarded for persevering with Calla Lily Ponder Chalon, a character born the same year I was, who reminds me of a cross between Magda Szubanski's Chenille (from Chenille's Institut de Beauté and House of Hair Removal), and Julia Roberts' hairdresser character in Steel Magnolias: 'Ah will not let mah own personal tragedy interfere with mah ability to do good hay-uh.'

I say 'rewarded' because on page 350, Calla Lily sits down and writes this letter.

May 22, 1977
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Mr President and Mrs Roslyn Carter,

I am a beautician. I work at a salon called Ricky's in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am a happily married woman who pays taxes, even on tips.

Now, Mrs Carter, you have chosen the perfect cut for your hair type. You especially have lovely hair for a woman your age, and it is very well kept. Mr President, you're thinning on top, so I think you'll strongly relate to what I'm about to say.

I speak as a beautician when I ask you to think, "How would you look as a bald couple?" One nuclear bomb would melt out all your hair. I am a professional in the field of beauty, but I don't know any cures for radiation-melted hair. And as far as I know, no one else does, either.

The human body is not a Styrofoam wig stand. I, for one, will not think you are a ninety-pound weakling if you get rid of the twenty-megaton bomb. I would like to go on waking up and cooking and doing hair and loving my husband.

If nothing else, please: Think of your looks.

Yours Very Sincerely,
Calla Lily Ponder Chalon


Ann ODyne said...

Southern Belles have been on ma mind this week while noticing that South Carolina Governors antics.
May I commend to you
a very droll book by Florence King
'Confessions Of A Failed Southern Lady' ?
Once read, never forgotten.
The protagonist is a 1950s student-virago in an era when this was just-not-the way to be.

I will seek out Miz Calla Lily on the strength of your post Thanks.

Ann ODyne said...

Drat that second link failed me so here's the wiki
(where I have been lost for some time)
on this wonderful writer.
One day The South Will Raase Again!

Helen said...

Simply brilliant.

genevieve said...

APPLAUSE. For the writer and the persistent reviewer.
Enjoyed your Maria H review in M Mag today -will there be more??? reviews I mean.

*inewrecd* I think Blogger has been to JB

Helen said...

Grannyvibes can still be seen commenting at Twisty's place as Spinning Liz.


Amanda said...

Coincidence. Was chatting yesterday to a bloke (the husband of my best friend from high schhool) who is from Monroe, Lousiana -- talking about my upcoming US trip which is to include Memphis but not, alas, New Orleans. He also talked about the "joy" of NO, that even Katrina could not really dent, and by contrast the "sense of sadness" in Memphis.

And he promised to make me jumbalaya when I get back. WIN.