Monday, July 6, 2009

Thomasville's Rite of Passage Read

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

“Long as you didn’t  hurt anybody, why shouldn’t you dance if you liked dancing, and marry again if you needed looking after, and go fishing or wear a floweredy dress if it might life your grief a little”

--   Will Tweedy 

If Thomasville has a rite of passage read, this just might be it (if, of course, you exclude anything by Bailey Junebug White). It’s been a standard on Brookwood Academy’s summer reading list. Pat Conroy calls it “one of the best portraits of small-town southern life ever written” and I reckon it is. Thomasville loves this book. And finally I see why.

It captures the eccentricities of people so bound by convention and reminds us not be too quick to judge.

Will Tweedy comes of age at a time where the automobile was just being introduced and the South was still licking its wounds from the War of Northern Aggression.

His story begins just three weeks after his Granny Blakeslee dies. Forgoing the conventional year of mourning, Grandpa Blakeslee marries the beautiful Yankee that makes hats for Grandpa’s General Store.

I’m not sure where the plot in this novel is, but with so much life goin on, who needs a plot? There are moments that are hysterical-- like when Will Tweedy releases a barrel of rats on crazy or when Aunt Loma’s Christmas pageant.  And moments that are tragic—like when Aunt Loma’s husband commits suicide. And there is plenty of slices of southern life in between.

On the surface, it’s a fun and easy novel. But for readers wanting more, there’s plenty to gnaw on. When Will Tweedy kisses a mill girl, the town’s class struggle between the townies and the lintheads is revealed. Like most southern novels, the race dynamics could be offensive if not seen through the lens of the time period. And, also like any good southern novel, religion has a central role.

Grandpa Blakeslee sets the moral tone for the novel as Will Tweedy mentor. His defying of social and religious conventions is done on strong conviction. He challenges Will to think about what worship should look like and questions how people pray. In doing so, Grandpa Blakeslee teaches Will how to deal with death, even his own. 

“When Jesus said ast and you’ll get it, He meant things of the spirit, not the flesh. Right now, for instance, I could ast, ‘Lord, please raise Grandpa from the dead,’ but it wouldn’t happen. But I can say, ‘Please, God, comfort me,’ and I’ll get heart’s ease. Grandpa said Jesus meant us to ast for hope, forgiveness, and all like that,” Will says. 

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