Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The Goddess of Fried Okra: A Review
The Goddess of Fried Okra
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 café 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.