After reading this delightful book, I am so immersed in Southern culture that I have a hankering for an RC Cola and a moon pie with a decided tendency to open my mouth with ‘y’all’ and ‘bless your heart’. No I am not poking fun not even a little since I love the Southern lifestyle and relate a smidge since I am from Western farm and ranch country. The story mentions such corollaries as ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and that is not far off for relating to this tale.
It is the story of a NYC journalist for a travel magazine who has let her work (and life) get slip-shod since the death of her mother. Upon returning from an assignment, she finds a new editor in charge who delivers an ultimatum. She has one more chance to keep her job. He is sending her to a small community in Alabama to cover the attractions of the area that are highlighted by the Christmas Pilgrimage (dinner and a tour of historic homes and places around the community). Naturally, to one who travels to Italy, Belize and the South Seas this is a decided slap in the face and she goes on her assignment prepared to hate it all assuming that the editor has set her up to fail.
Julia Sullivan leaves the Atlanta airport and discovers that she has entered a foreign world unlike any other that she has been to before. A world that is slower-paced, suspiciously more friendly and curious, and still retains heat and humidity in winter. They speak different, their food is different, they dress different, and hey they even think differently. Who names their family members after Auburn University football coaches- even the girls? Julia’s friend at the travel magazine, Marietta, has done some research and told her that college football, family ties and religion are a big deal.
Entering the community of Eufaula, Alabama to do a few interviews, take a tour, and snap a few quick photos before jumping on a plane, Julia’s pretty certain of her game plan. She can then get back to her many activities including a long term relationship that has stagnated, but lingers on without the final break up because she is always jetting off to the next travel assignment. Not too long after arrival, something starts to happen to her when she is confronted by the down home charm particularly the charming southern man acting as her liaison to the community. In spite of broken windshield, fire ants, awkward dinners, jealous girlfriends lost luggage and attacking bees, she loses interest in her hasty departure plan.
Shug Jordan (yes, you read it right; it’s not a misspelling) is the local historical commission worker and preservationist for Eufaula’s past. He has a part time job in the family construction company, but works full-time on his passion- the historic homes and places in the area. He has a beautiful flirtatious girl friend, Mary Katherine, whose eyes shoot jealous daggers at Julia. Shug is counting on Julia to write a story that will catch the eye nationally and bring tourism and thus funds to Eufaula which will pay for the preservation work and maintenance. But he is up against some big corporation that wants to come in, tear it all down, and put up condos. Time is running out as the city board is highly in favor of ‘phase III’ development and will soon vote on the issue. The travel article may be too little too late.
It is observing Shug’s passion and zeal to fight the developers (or should I say just observing and being with Shug, period), befriending Shug’s sister, PD, with her big dreams for a bakery, and getting to know all the small town characters that make Julia very reluctant to part when the time comes for her to return to New York and write her piece. And this is where the story got even more interesting.
Dancing Naked in Dixie should come with a warn label about not reading this in public. I laughed out so many times with no possibility of being discreet about it. The story is in Julia’s first person voice. She has impulse issues, distractedness, and disorganization warring inside her all the time that have gotten worse since her mother succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease and her father left them. You can imagine how these difficulties would be an issue for someone whose job is to observe, interview, and report on a schedule. So, yes, keeping up with the direction of her thoughts, her take on things and the plot of the story was rather entertaining at times.
The plot itself was a combination of Julia’s self-discovery and the battle with the developers. Personally, I was more interested in Julia’s issues than the other which really only took off as a storyline in the latter part of the story. There is a light romance possibility that slowly grows and strengthens through the story, but it stays very much on the sweet side with an absence of steam and heat and does not get acknowledged because they both have significant others. To be blunt, no sex and no passionate declarations. Truthfully, neither would have fit this story.
The characters, along with the back drop, were probably the best part of the story. Both NYC and Eufaula were described in such a way that they acted more the part of characters. You could almost feel a heartbeat and personality because of their differences. The main characters were loveable and I was connected to them. It was the strong secondary people that took a fairly simple read and made it a fun and kept my interest. Each small town and each office has these types- the dragon executive secretary at the magazine, the best friend gossip in the next cubicle, the gas station attendant who wants to chat, the inn owner with aspirations for the Broadway stage, and the family oddities. Too fun! The scene on her last flight and time in the airport was a riot, but I will not spoil it for you.
So if you like a sweet romantic comedy between a charming Southerner and a quirky Yankee, give it a try.
The Best Butts in Alabama, the huge billboard above my head brags. A robust pink pig, dressed in blue overalls and a cowboy hat, winks down at me. Next to the hog’s turned up nose, royal blue letters read ‘Phil’s Bar-B-Q.’
Phil certainly knows how to make a first impression. As does Mother Nature.
The sunshine beats down on my shoulder through the window. Is it always this muggy in December? I swipe at my forehead with the back of my hand and do quick surveillance.
Where is the historic, elegant city I was promised in the letter? There is a normal-looking church across the street, a run-of-the-mill real estate business to my right, and a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called The Donut King, which seems to be doing ten times more business than the Winn-Dixie grocery store I just passed.
So far, all I see of Eufaula, Alabama is more in-your-face commercial than traveler chic. Of course, I’m not in the best frame of mind to become one with my surroundings.
After a lousy Thursday morning of sulking and a rushed packing job, I sent an RSVP with regrets for the fundraiser, gave away my tickets to the Met, left a voice mail for Andrew, and changed my ticket to an earlier departure.
Hours later, after fighting through JFK security, surviving the cramped flight to Atlanta, I spent the night in Buckhead, Georgia, picked up my enormous rented SUV this morning (it was either that or a red minivan), and began driving the three-and-a-half hours to reach my pinhole-on-a-map destination.
All to save my job.
AUTHOR BIO AND LINKS
Lauren Clark writes contemporary novels set in the Deep South; stories sprinkled with sunshine, suspense, and secrets.
A former TV news anchor, Lauren adores flavored coffee, local book stores, and anywhere she can stick her toes in the sand. Her big loves are her family, paying it forward, and true-blue friends. Check out her website at www.laurenclarkbooks.com.
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