“Once in a Blue Moon”
Author: Vicki Covington
Publisher: John F. Blair
Price: $26.95 (Hardcover)
For a number of years, Vickie Covington of Birmingham was a major figure in Alabama literature. Beginning with “Gathering Home” in 1988, Covington produced a series of fine novels—“Bird of Paradise” in 1990, “Night Ride Home” in 1992, “The Last Hotel for Women” in 1996. This one, perhaps her best, centered around the company baseball teams in Birmingham, black and white, and had Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor as a nearly sympathetic character, a more or less ordinary human being, who hung out at Dinah’s Hotel, which had been a bordello. “The Last Hotel for Women” was made into a play produced successfully at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
“Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage,” in 1999, a collaboration with her husband, Dennis Covington, caused a great stir with its candid depiction of discord and infidelity.
Covington’s next book, a collection of essays, “Women in a Man’s World, Crying,” 2002, is a collection of essays originally published mostly in the “Birmingham News,” with a few in “Southern Living,” “Birmingham Magazine” and other journals.
Then there was silence. For 15 years we have heard nothing from Covington, but now she is back with a new novel from John F. Blair, Publisher.
“Once in a Blue Moon” is set in an uncertain but hopeful moment, for the characters and the country: the weeks around the election of Barack Obama.
The protagonist, Landon Cooper, needs to start over. Her husband, Robbie, has just divorced her and since they had lived beyond their means, they also have lost their house. A psychological counselor, she has suspended her practice while she restores calm and balance in her own life, which was disrupted by her bipolarity and alcohol abuse, not to mention a legacy of childhood cruelty from her drunk father.
Landon, in recovery, “overwhelmed by guilt and shame…[sometimes] longs for the joy of mania.” An ex-hippy, she is a sensitive, spiritual person who says: “mystical things have happened to me.”
Landon will begin the next chapter of her life in the bottom half of a subdivided old home, on fictional Cullom Street, in Southside, right below Vulcan.
In the first few chapters, Covington brings on stage the cast of characters, the ship of fools, all scrambling to make a living and find their ways as adults, who will be Landon’s neighbors and in time her friends. Since they are all in their 20’s and Landon in her 40’s, she will become counselor and mother figure to her new friends.
Upstairs is Abi, who has escaped a trailer park not far from Birmingham and is conflicted by her feelings for the family she left behind and by her uncertain sexual orientation. Now she’s working her way through UAB as a waitress, with plans to be a social worker.
Neighbor Sam, from Greene County, is the local pot dealer, but in the most benign way imaginable, working his way through an engineering degree. All the other characters are customers!
Jet is already a college graduate. She works in a bookstore, has a wicked crush on Sam, and recently learned, to her amazement, who her biological mother is.
The shepherd to this flock is Mr. Kasir, the best, wisest, kindest, most understanding and patient landlord who ever lived. Although he has troubles of his own, Mr. Kasir, much older, indeed wounded at Normandy on D-Day, sees his tenants as family and they are fantastically lucky to have him.
Covington moves this group through the last months of 2008 as they each cope with crises medical and romantic, support one another, and we hope, come through.
The novel is conventional in structure, rotating chapters by character. Once in a Blue Moon is not Covington’s best, but it is pleasing and readable and I am delighted to have this author back working again.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” A shorter form of this review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio.