Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: MISS DREAMSVILLE & the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth

For fans of "southern fiction", and all readers who enjoy stories with strong characters, a bit of history, and a sense of place, this one is a sure bet. This is one of my favorite genres, and debut novelist Amy Hill Hearth, a former journalist and the author or coauthor of seven nonfiction books, including Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years, has done a bang-up job of painting us a picture of life as it surely could have been.

The story relates the formation and bonding of an unlikely group of characters in a Naples Florida in the early days of the civil rights movement (1963).  While I wouldn't describe them as "the good ole days", others might. Jackie Hart, a transplanted Bostonian, has landed in Florida with her husband and three children.  This deeply southern, sleepy little town seems like another planet to her sophisticated "Yankee" way of thinking.  She is BORED.  With the help of the local librarian, she forms the Collier County Women's Literary Society to meet weekly at the library to discuss books and ideas.

Members of the group include Dora, a thirty-something divorcee who rescues snapping turtles; Plain Jane, a woman nobody seems to know much about; Robbie Lee, the town's resident homosexual who works at the Sears distribution center helping local housewives pick out curtains; Mrs. Bailey White, recently released from prison having served 11 years for killing her husband; and Priscilla a black maid who has been volunteering at the library.  Together these five, along with Miss Lansbury the librarian, embark on a journey through modern reading, eschewing the old classics in favor of newer, more edgy material.

In the meantime, Jackie is still somewhat stifled by the southern lifestyle and gets herself hired at the local newspaper and as the midnite to 2AM disc jockey on the local radio station.  Not wanting anyone to know he's hired a Yankee, the station manager and Jackie decide to keep her identity a secret and name her MISS DREAMSVILLE.  The town immediately goes into sleep deprivation staying up at night trying to figure out who she is.  The group continues reading and bonding, even through some terrifying moments.

The real story is not the identity of the dreamy voice, but rather the growth of the friendships and relationships formed by the group as they gradually begin to trust, to accept and to open their minds to new ideas, new friends, and new situations.  It's a tear-jerker, a knee-slapper, and a fantastic read.  Be sure to set aside a few hours, because you won't put it down once you begin.  It's bound to be a book-club top discussion pick in the year to come.

My thanks to Simon and Schuster for making the review copy available.

Author: Amy Hill Hearth
Publisher-Format: Simon and Schuster, e-galley
Date of publication:  October 2, 2012
Subject: women's roles, racial tension, southern living
Setting: Naples Florida, 1963
Genre: contemporary "southern" fiction
Source: Net galley from publisher

1 comment:

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