Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Goddess of Fried Okra: A Review



The Goddess of Fried Okra
Jean Brashear
Belle Bridge Books
Release Date: April 1, 2010


Eudora O’Brien is on a mission to find her sister. Her sister is dead, but a little thing like death doesn’t stop this six-foot redhead from her quest to find the one person who gave her life stability. With $607.83, a single photograph of Sister, and a tarnished bracelet that belonged to Mama, Pea (an abbreviated form of Sweetpea, Sister’s name for Eudora) sets out on her journey through central Texas in the July heat, determined to find Sister’s spirit whatever that reincarnated spirit’s current home may be.

The seeker always finds guides on the journey, and Pea is no exception. But her guides appear in unexpected guises—an abandoned kitten, a pregnant runaway, a curmudgeonly gun dealer, and a motherly cafĂ© owner. Each has something to teach Pea and something to learn from her. The kitten appears in chapter two, and from the moment Pea names her “Isis” after the goddess of rebirth, the most powerful of Egyptian divinities, the theme of female empowerment begins to build. By the story’s end, Pea, and the reader, have discovered the power among this unlikely assortment of women, which grows to include the women in the past, not only Sister and Mama but also Madame Eva the psychic, Big Lil (the mother bear of Pea’s cheating ex-boyfriend), and especially Dark Agnes, the fictional, sword-wielding, Medieval heroine from the imagination of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

At the end of the heroic journey of myth, the protagonist integrates within the self opposing forces, masters the fear of death, and embraces the freedom to live. At the end of the journey in TGOFO, Pea has integrated the nurturer and the warrior within herself and has become Eudora, who accepts her past and celebrates her possibilities.

The Goddess of Fried Okra is not a romance, although it has a sexy con man in the process of reform (and a great love scene); it’s women’s fiction with the requisite journey of self-discovery. But this is not your conventional WF story of the divorced wife, the patient facing death, or the rebel coming home. I’m not much for high concept descriptions, but I’d say TGOFO is Eudora Welty meets Sue Monk Kidd and they lunch with Fannie Flagg.

When I first heard the title The Goddess of Fried Okra, I was intrigued. When I realized Jean Brashear, whose emotionally rich, character-driven books I have loved for years, was the author, I added it to my 2010 must-read list. Reading it was even better than my expectations. When I learned a few pages into the story that A Wrinkle in Time and the poetry of Mary Oliver were among the books Pea carried in the trunk of her car, I knew I had encountered a kindred spirit. I loved this book with its endearing eccentrics, its poignancy, its humor, and is distinctly Southern accent. I even loved the chapter titles and signpost epigrams. It’s redundant at this point to say The Goddess of Fried Okra got an A from me (but I said it anyway). It’s on bookshelves now. Rush out today and buy a copy, and reserve a goodly block of time for reading. This is one you’ll want to savor.

In the meantime, here’s a lovely video that will further whet your appetite for the book.

Notice: To appease the FTC, I will state that I received at no cost an ARC of The Goddess of Fried Okra, but I would have bought it anyway and indeed plan to buy several copies, one to fit on a keeper shelf and others to give to friends who think romance novelists can’t write.

21 comments:

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

If I ever dig my way out of my writing room, this seems to be just what I should be reading at the moment. For a Yankee, I have a very soft spot of southern fiction. ;)

Tiffany Clare said...

This book sounds like a fun adventure in searching for yourself.

Great review, Janga.

Kim said...

Great review, Janga! You know, I consider your advice set in stone so I'll definitely have Jean's latest on my stack and soon.

Tessa Dare said...

The book sounds wonderful! I will definitely look for it on my next bookstore trip. Great review, Janga!

Janga said...

Maggie, I think your time in Virginia made a hybrid of you. :) If you add the New England writers and the Southern writers, you have the two renaissances and a huge slice of the pie of American lit.

Janga said...

Thanks, Tiff. I think you'd love Pea and the gun dealer Glory particularly.

Janga said...

I'm no Moses, Kim, but I do think you'll enjoy Jean's book. It's a winner. Thanks for stopping by.

Janga said...

Tessa, thanks for stopping by. I hope you find TGOFO. I think you'll like Jean's voice.

Jean Brashear said...

Well, all I gotta say is...be still, my beating heart! Janga, you thrilled my socks off with that review!

Because it's a small press book, you'll have better luck finding it online via the publisher www.bellbridgebooks.com, Amazon or BN.com, but any bookstore can order it for you.

BN.com is going to feature it in their online newsletter in either May or June, and the buyer for the stores is excited about it, so maybe one of these days it'll actually be on their shelves, but for now, you'll need to go in and ask for it.

Any bookseller can order it for you, too--and as someone in a David vs. Goliath situation, I'm a big fan of the indie sellers.

Janga, you honor me and humble me...thank you so, so much! This is truly the book of my heart, so I am beyond grateful for your beautiful sentiments. (And I'm not a fan of high concept, either, but 'Eudora Welty meets Sue Monk Kidd and they lunch with Fannie Flagg"???? My publisher nearly expired of happiness--and was sick that the book's already in print and that couldn't go on the cover!

PJ said...

Great review, Janga! Living in the south, I have a natural affinity for good southern fiction. I've enjoyed Jean's Harlequins for years and have been looking forward to this book, especially after meeting Jean last year in DC. Your stamp of approval just makes me that much more anxious to get started. Can't wait to curl up with a tall glass of tea and The Goddess of Fried Okra!

MsHellion said...

Like you, Janga, I've been intrigued to read this book as soon as I read the title--and your recommendation only cements the deal. :) Great post!!

Manda Collins said...

Sounds like a delicious story, Janga! Thanks so much for the rec. Great review! And best wishes to Jean:)

irisheyes said...

Janga, you should review regularly. I love to hear you explain why a book is worth reading. That in and of itself is so helpful you have no idea.

It has taken a lot to keep me interested lately. I've put down more books than I've picked up. Maybe RL craziness has been to blame. Every so often I get one, though, that just clicks and even if it takes a week of sneaking off where no one can find me to finish it I know I've got a winner. Usually it's a book you've recommended. Thanks!

Janga said...

Jean, it's easy to give a good review to a great book, and I truly loved Goddess. I think it shows that it's the book of your heart.

I'm glad my high concept was a hit. It's probably the only one I'll ever do, but Southern lit is my field. All those connections were there in TGOFO just waiting to be put into words. :)

Janga said...

PJ, you're going to love it. There's one description of an old-fashioned "filling station" that just sings. And it will strike you as familiar because they are still dotted across the South.

Janga said...

Hellie, this is the one I quoted from on the RWR's discussion of rich description. The scene-setting is wonderful, as are many other things.

Janga said...

Thanks, Manda. You know when the poet in me responds to a writer's language, it always delights me. Jean's prose is marvelous.

Janga said...

Irish, I appreciate the kind words about my recommendations. I know exactly what you mean about that "click." It's worth going through the so-so books to get to that one that makes you stop and say, as James Dickey did when reading his own work, "Damn, that's good!"

TerriOsburn said...

Wonderful review, Janga. And it sounds like a wonderful book. I have my nose to the grindstone until June, not reading anything at all. Which never happens but I'm being good! This sounds like the perfect reward. I'm making myself a note now so I remember to pick it up before then.

Jean Brashear said...

Well, Janga, all I can say about your analysis and comments is a) I'm beyond honored and b) I wish I'd had the good fortune to take a class from you!

(Okay, actually, I could rhapsodize all day and into the night, but...you're a busy woman. ;))

Santa said...

I know everyone else is safely tucked in their beds by this time of the night but I knew I had one more stop to make and that stop was here.

You've never steered me wrong in all the years I've known you, Janga and I can clearly see that this book will be no exception. I am becoming a fan of southern fiction due to your influence and, surprisingly, my daughter's.

I'd also like to say I think it's brilliant that you'll be sharing this with the nay-sayers in your life! Go to it, my dear.