Mon February 21, 2005
The Same Sweet Girls
Six fading Southern belles commiserate and reevaluate their lives and loves in Alabama.
By Don Noble
There has been a buzz concerning King?s third novel, The Same Sweet Girls, for a couple of years, although it has only been released for a few weeks.
Why, you might ask?
First, there was a large advance, always provoking talk, envious and otherwise.
Second, while Making Waves (1995) didn?t, in fact, make many, The Sunday Wife (2002), a fictional treatment of a woman psychologically abused by a mean and selfish Methodist minister husband did do well.
The Sunday Wife was a deeply felt story, and readers of both sexes could tell.
This is much less true for The Same Sweet Girls. This book will, I predict, have millions of female readers and few male readers, because men are irrelevant to the proceedings.
This novel is in what is now a recognizable subgenre. Mary McCarthy may have begun it with The Group. We have recently seen it on the screen in Steel Magnolias and in fiction in Lee Smith?s The Last Girls.
There are lots of other examples.
In The Same Sweet Girls, six undergraduates at a Methodist girls? college in Alabama called, in the novel, the W, form a mutually supportive bond.
They are faithful, loyal friends and for 27 years after graduation they remain so, meeting twice a year. At the time of the action of this novel, they are all about 48, a dangerous age.
They are, of course, varied. Corrine is a gourd artist?she decorates gourds?and is mysteriously ill, exhausted all the time. She is seeing an herbalist, rather than a conventional MD. This is partly because she is divorced from an MD, Miles, who is a genuine sadomasochist.
Julia is married to the Governor of Alabama, Joe Ed, an ex-Alabama-quarterback, but their passionless marriage is in trouble.
Astor, 48, has married the rich black primitive artist Mose Morehouse, 76, and now in a nursing home. She is unfaithful, no two ways about it.
Lanier, an RN and a really likeable woman, has been thrown out of her house in Reform by her husband for a foolish infidelity and is now living on Dauphin Island, repentant but also interested in Jesse Phoenix, the drunken country-western singer-songwriter next door.
Of the six ?girls,? only Julie, Lanier, and Corrine get to speak. Rosanelle, Astor, and Byrd don?t get voices.
The men in this novel hardly speak at all; they are reported upon, and though they are not all monsters, the men are very much on the periphery, for this is a woman?s novel.
We are told repeatedly what the women are wearing. Julie tells us that Astor is ?particularly striking in cropped, pencil-slim black slacks and a skimpy black sweater, with high-heeled sandals on her feet.?
Lanier tells us Rosanelle is ?dressed fit to kill in an expensive-looking plum-colored suit and suede heels. I?ve never seen anyone wear so many bracelets and they jangle like mad . . .?
Lanier, the ex-jock, typically wears
?sweatpants and a t-shirt.?
These women not only meet twice a year, crown that year?s queen, she who has been
?sweetest,? and tell each other their innermost secrets?and they?ve got plenty?they are also on the phone to one another in what must be described as a marathon style.
When something happens, they each call everyone.
And they cry.
Lord, do they cry.
They cry alone and in groups, from one little tear down the cheek to huge sobbing fits. I?m told this is good for you, therapeutic, makes you feel better afterwards, and I believe it.
But, again, few men are going to get far with this novel. But maybe it?s not for men.
About 70 percent of all novels are bought by women, and about 90 percent of the membership of reading groups are women, so this novel, deftly told, entirely readable, will find a large, if female, audience.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.