The Southern Woman by Elizabeth Spencer

August 29, 2009
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The Southern Woman
Elizabeth Spencer

Modern Library Classics
8/29/09
Hardcover/480 pages
ISBN: 081298076X
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". . . luscious and satisfying tidbits of humor, ethereal beauty and insight."

The Southern Woman: A collection of stories as graceful and genteel as a southern woman.

Forrest Gump’s mother taught him, “Life is a box of chocolates. You don’t know which one you’re going to get.” Mrs. Gump was a southern woman.

Amidst the changes of stylings and themes, there are certain prose types that stand out. There is no mistaking the spare and earthy prose of John Steinbeck with the luxurious and overblown sprawl of Faulkner or the excess and eccentricities of Eudora Welty with the tightly woven, macabre prose of Joyce Carol Oates. Into this company I must add the prose stylings of Elizabeth Spencer.

Spencer’s southern petticoats are evident in every luscious morsel in this box of finely crafted collection of tales. The Southern Woman unfolds in a slow dance as beautiful and inspiring to watch as a Dixie cotillion. Like bougainvillea spreading over the crumbling remains of an old plantation house, each story obscures the decadent, aging past with fine layers of manners and charm.

Modern belles travel to Italy, bringing their family obligations and their white gloves. At the ruins of the Coliseum the belles bury them among the roots of a dazzling white azalea or wrestle with how to inform, politely, a proud Florentine father that the beauty his son sees is flawed. Wherever these women of the South travel, they bring with them a hint of the plantation as well as a poised and gracious manner that renders the peccadilloes and overweening pride of the most dissolute reprobate charming and forgivable.

Included among these softly sparkling gems is the novella, The Light in the Piazza, a story of remarkable beauty and poignancy. Even the simple generosity of a child to a hymn-singing African-American plowing a muddy field in The Little Brown Girl is memorable, imparting a slow smile.

Each story in this miraculous box of literary chocolates is stunning in its simplicity, lingering like the warm, sweet taste of pralines and cream. Spencer elevates the simple to the sublime. It is a welcome and restful change from the literary acrobatics of modern writers. Spencer’s stories invoke warm summer nights perfumed by jasmine, spangled by the lazy winking spirals of lightning bugs and are, quite simply, marvelous.

Whichever story you choose to read from The Southern Woman you will not be disappointed. There are no insipid creams or inedible nougats, only luscious and satisfying tidbits of humor, ethereal beauty and insight.

 

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell

 

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