My family tried to trace our roots once and basically what we learned that we go back as far as written records in the south. While some of my ancestors lived briefly in North Carolina, the majority of them moved to Atlanta and settled there. I’m fourth or fifth generation Atlantan, a rare species indeed.
I love the south, it’s people, it’s small towns, it’s slower pace. Of course there are things I don’t love as well, but we’ll leave that for another day. When I was growing up Atlanta, yes the huge metropolis, was just another small southern town. Everyone knew my family, my grandparents, what my daddy did for a living, where we went to church, you get the picture. At the time the south was so intimate that we could barely go anywhere in any state bordering on Georgia where we didn’t run into someone who knew my dad.
That lasted for decades, long after I had left home and gotten married. My husband and I took a weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountains with my parents and I won’t ever forget stopping in a local restaurant and hearing someone call across the room, “Hey, Buster.” Buster was my daddy’s nickname and this was someone who knew him from way back.
So I consider myself an expert on the South, it’s people, it’s towns, it’s quirks, all of it. We moved to Colorado for twelve years and I remember several people remarking about particular ways I did things. They found it unique, sometimes elegant, sometimes just different. It wasn’t really, it was just the southern way of doing things. There were always treats of some kind to offer to anyone who dropped by for a visit. I always walked out to the car with visitors when they left, and stood in the drive waving goodbye until they were out of sight. We ate on china and with the good silver, in the dining room every Sunday…on the antique table that was part of the dining room furniture passed down from my grandparents. None of that was special to me, it was just the way it had always been done in my world.
While I’ve finally left some of those habits behind me (I mean, who has time to polish silver?), I always enjoy reading about the south when the author has a true understanding of it’s people and it’s ways. Mary Kay Anderson is just such an author. She has long been a favorite of mine, and I think much of that is because of the genuineness of the way she crafts the people and places in her books. Sure, she writes an excellent mystery as well, but it is so much richer because the rest of the book is so genuine.
Her latest book, Hello Summer, is no exception. In this book she has perfectly captured the feel of a small southern town, this one close to the beaches of Florida’s panhandle. That’s another of my favorite places, but we don’t even have time for me to go into that right now. If you want to know what I thought about her book here’s my review.
The latest book by Mary Kay Andrews again offers a good story, some excellent characters, and an intriguing read. She has an ability to depict southern living in the panhandle of Florida in such a way you feel the heat and smell the salt in the air. If you are familiar with the area, many of her descriptions will ring true, from the small town featuring prominent churches to the way the residents all seem to know one another, as well as their ancestors back for several generations.
In this story she offers us a picture of a small town lawyer who manages to carve out a career as a successful 18 term member of congress who excelled in bringing lots of federal dollars into the area. The result is that he is revered by most of the locals who don’t want to hear anything negative about him; but that’s difficult when he dies in an unexplained car accident. She includes his grasping, second wife and his “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” son who both approach life with an air of entitlement that many residents are willing and even complicit in their maintaining.
On the opposite side of the story are Conley, the protagonist of this story who is a dedicated news reporter with personal experience in what it feels like to be abused by the son. She is also a member of the town’s aristocracy, albeit a different segment that is represented by bankers, the founder of the local newspaper and friends who all grew up on one of the more prominent streets in town. Her circle of friends went on to contribute to the town’s continuing existence as one of those idyllic small southern towns where everyone knows each other and graciousness is the way of life. Conley is somewhat the odd person out here, having moved to the metropolitan city of Atlanta and become a successful print reporter until circumstances upend her career path and she has to return home for what she plans will be a short hiatus.
There are multiple story lines here, including Conley’s relationship with her long time friend and neighbor, Skelly, who owns the pharmacy in town; her sister Grayson, who took over running the family paper and is paying for that decision with problems in her marriage; her grandmother, a grande dame of the town who exhibits all the charm as well as the steel spine that epitomizes a segment of iconic southern women; and her housekeeper, who is more a friend than employee and has her own reasons to hate the now dead senator. All these differing story lines dovetail beautifully into a tale that is part discovery of how the senator died, part description of southern living, perhaps from a standpoint that is dying out, and an awakening of what is truly important in life. Hint: It may be a career, it may be something entirely different.
This is an easy book to read, with no major surprises, but still a satisfying end to the story. The characters and town are so well drawn the reader will have no problem picking it up, putting it down to go shell some beans, burr some strawberries, or take a quick dip in the ocean and then come back to relax a bit with Conley and company. My thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced digital read copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest in Ms. Andrews latest book. It publishes today, May 5, 2020, so the time is perfect for you to contact your local bookseller or librarian to get your copy. If, like me, you are continuing to limit your exposure to the world at large because of the pandemic raging around us, this is the perfect read to entertain you. Happy Reading.