Reported by Lauren
This month, the BPL Book Club discussed Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. Told from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy, Burns’ novel tells the story of Will and his relationships with his family and friends, most especially his close relationship with his grandpa Rucker who has scandalized their small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, by marrying the milliner at his general store, the beautiful “Yankee” Miss Love Simpson, only three weeks after Will’s grandma dies. Miss Love happens to be MUCH younger and the prettiest girl in town, and Will’s mother and aunt are furious, not just because they’re in mourning, but also because Miss Love’s presence threatens their inheritance. First Will, and then the rest of the family, eventually come to appreciate Miss Love’s role in Rucker’s life, but not before many hijinks ensue. Cold Sassy itself is at a turning point, caught between its traditional Confederate farmer roots and the rise of industrialized travel and commerce by railroad and automobile. Grandpa becomes a symbol of old made new again (just like the town), and Will watches through innocent eyes as his town, his family, and his own life are changed forever.
Our Book Club discussion started off with an examination of Will Tweedy and Grandpa’s characters. Will is considered the protagonist, but we decided that Grandpa Rucker is really the driving force of the novel. Several members could see a family resemblance in Burns’ portrayal of Grandpa Rucker as an old Southern man, stubborn and hard-headed, but with a good heart and a mischievous sense of humor. We also enjoyed watching Will grow and mature, and learn life various lessons right alongside his grandfather.
We next discussed the portrayal of small town gossip, “keeping up appearances,” and traditional death rites. The death of Will’s grandmother sets the story in motion, and it was interesting to see how small southern towns take their grieving so seriously. The family mourns for months, and the entire town attends the “settin’ up” and burial. Rucker’s quick marriage to Love is considered an unforgiveable transgression. Rumors of Rucker’s possible infidelity abound, and the couple is shunned from church and other social gatherings. This bothers Miss Love, but not Rucker! He enjoys the attention, and delights in pointing out the hypocrisy of his fellow “Christians.”
Overall, we found this book to be a sweet, funny, and endearing portrait of small-town Southern life. The writing style was a little hard to read at times, as Burns is heavy-handed with the Southern dialect, but hearing it read aloud made it much easier to follow. Some commented that they wished Burns had gone a little deeper into the various issues Will encounters, like racism, classism, infidelity, and suicide, but others thought the “skimming over” of the serious parts added to the novel’s charm. The fact that Will is young and doesn’t quite understand how serious these issues are actually gives them more weight. We ended our discussion by saying that while this was no To Kill a Mockingbird, it was entertaining and authentic without going too deep. 4 out of 5 stars!
Join us next month, August 15 at 6:30 as we discuss Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. All are welcome!