THE BOOK: Lucky Southern Women.
PUBLISHED IN: 2014.
THE AUTHOR: Susannah Eanes.
THE EDITOR: Rachael Stern.
THE PUBLISHER: Propertius Press, a small literary press in Virginia.
SUMMARY: The rural landscape entwines around the lives and loves of two strong, yet troubled women, a beautiful contrast to the beliefs they absorbed as children. Only in moving beyond the past can they forge a way ahead not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. In so doing, each finds something vital that will give them the power and resilience they need to meet the greatest challenge of all. Lucky Southern Women explores the marks that fundamentalist religion has left on the lives and outlooks of two best friends, close as sisters, yet far apart in the ways each deals with her own moral compass. Frank, practical Phoebe and elusive, romantic yet wise Sophie.
THE BACK STORY: I worked for a regional government agency in Alabama in the 1980s, and much of the experiences of life there was so different from what I’d experienced growing up in Virginia. I found myself taking notes from my daily encounters and putting them in a journal, including the stories some of my coworkers and friends told about their own lives. I kept in touch with some of these friends, and we wrote letters back and forth after I left there. I also met a couple of folks from Alabama who shared some of their stories. All of them seemed so different from what I had experienced, and yet – somehow familiar and understandable. Years later, while my children were small, I pulled out these old notes and letters and started writing, working in newspaper clippings and other stories I’d gathered about the region. After twenty years and over a hundred re-writes, this novel was the result.
WHY THIS TITLE?: It comes from something one of the characters says while explaining her view on life, and is met to be juxtaposed to what is immediately evident, that the characters at first appear anything but “lucky” – so it seems quite tongue-in-cheek, but by the end of the book, it takes on a more nuanced meaning.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The book is set in the South in the late 1980s, a time and place of nostalgia for some these days, and it describes characters that I think many folks might relate to or want to understand better. And Alabama has been in the news lately, so there’s that.
“To say that the main characters and narrators in LUCKY SOUTHERN WOMEN, by Susannah Eanes, are aspects of the same duality is to risk stripping the story from its rich complexity. Yet it is difficult to see Phoebe and Sophie as irreducibly distinct. Friends since pre-adolescence, these two Alabama natives evoke light and shade, fire and water, yin and ying. They are, essentially, two aspects of a culture whose icons include opposites such as Scarlett O’Hara and Harriet Tubman. But it is not far-fetched to conclude that their differences help cement their relationship. Cool headed, grounded, analytical Phoebe needs dramatic, romantic, fanciful Sophie to jolt her out of her primness. Sophie, on the other hand, needs Phoebe to be her to remind her of the advantages of seeming balanced and conventional. In Eanes’s South, the tendency to deviate from conventional morality is not forbidden. What is forbidden is the act of flaunting one’s unusual proclivities.
“Both Phoebe and Sophie know very well that until further notice, life is all about appearances. Adultery is not as huge a sin as making one’s extramarital dalliance public. Anyone can be mentally ill, fragmented, irreparably scarred as long as they do it discreetly. Sweep the oddities under the carpet, wear pretty silk dresses, go to church on Sundays, and keep the community from having to deal with unpalatable realities such as incest and spouse abuse, and everything will be as sweet as pie. This knowledge is only a small part of what these friends share. Both yearn for profound changes. Both want to transcend poverty and emotional neglect. Both want to overcome the obstacles placed in their paths by inadequate families—here Eanes joins William Faulkner and Eudora Welty as a chronicler of magnificently quirky, if not out-and-out crackpots—both want, above all stability, respectability and and a good economic situation. That marriage is the only solution they find for their problems seems anachronistic a good couple of decades into American women’s struggle for equality. Eanes prepares the reader to understand that in her charachters’ south, time does not move as rapidly as it does up North. Red Level, Alabama, is impervious to its passage. Trapped in the past like a fly in amber, it is “…as dry, dusty, and dead-end a place you can have… Here nothing has changed since Prohibition, and people seem downright proud of their ignorance.
“As in all good stories, neither Phoebe nor Sophie are static characters. They grow and they change as they progress towards their dreams. They marry, they have children, they get jobs and they begin the process of becoming adults. Phoebe, the more ambitious of the pair, believes that education is the key to an independent life. Sophie, the autodidact, the dreamer, the poet, thinks that love’s transformative power is the answer to the questions she has begun to ask about her life. Being a doctor’s wife, owning a clothes shop, raising perfect children is not enough. She craves the intoxication of an earlier romance, a reprise of the all consuming passion she felt for the former beau she traded for stultifying domesticity. When she meets him again, seven years after he joined the army and left her to wait for him like a southern Penelope, all hell—a discreet kind of hell, mind you– breaks lose. Just as Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and other literary adulterers, she sees her dull husband for what he is. An affair with her former beau is an unavoidable cataclism – and if the cataclism comes with the gift of a Porsche, who can blame her?
“Sensible Phoebe reacts to these shenanigans by going into full Jimminy Cricket mode. She tries to make Sophie see sense, she tries to remind her of family responsibilities. She knows it is no-go, but she persists in face of Sophie’s obdurate insistence in crashing and burning. Sophie, in turn, wants none of Phoebe’s mealy-mouthed advice. She has found her raison d’etre and as far as she is concerned, it is all out of her hands anyway. She bears no responsibility for the aftershocks that will result from her emotional quake. This is not a simple romance. This is an act of God, it is predestined, it is unavoidable.After all, she and her lover are not flaunting convention. If she “…. hasn’t been the perfect wife she has at least been discreet and put on a public face that would do credit to any church-going woman.
“Eanes’s skill in making Phoebe and Sophie into real people is admirable. She tells their story loving and gracefully. She mixes heartbreaking lyricism with clear-eyed analysis of the social conditions that shape her characters and she shows the reader inner and outer landscapes of surpassing sadness and enormous beauty. These are perhaps her greatest strengths as a novelist—extraordinarily musical language, amazing descriptive power, and the ability to create landscape and characters that refuse to fit a single category. Yes, her Alabama is harsh, it is behind the times, it is often unpretty. It is also strong, resilient, nurturing and unforgettably lovely. Her Phoebe and Sophie are Protean and therein lies the universality that carries them beyond the American South to make them citizens of the world. Richtexts welcomes Eanes to the ranks of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Dorothy Parker.” —Clara Castelar, writing at Richtexts, a book review blog.
Ms. Eanes was born and raised in a small town in Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Beginning with the faithful keeping of journals at around age ten, Susannah expressed herself best in the written word, contributing poems and prose to several small publications throughout her school years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and has completed major coursework toward the Master of Science in International Studies. She earned an international certificate in French language and culture at the Université de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France while a high school student.
Winner of a Virginia Highlands Short Story Writing Award for “The Burning of Nellie’s Mountain,” she has produced short stories, poems, and non-fiction articles for several journals and regional publications, and has served as editor of an international alternative energy newsletter. She is the author of several novels and is a member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, the Writers Guild of America East, Roanoke Valley Writers, and the Virginia Writers Club. An avid musician, historian, animal lover, and naturalist, she practices yoga, loves needlework, and lives with her family in her beloved Virginia mountains.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: In their own way, Phoebe and Sophie are doing their best to make the world a better place. Religious belief and personal history wars with sanity and wisdom in this novel of love, freedom, and the enduring strength of friendship. The book explores the deep mysticism of family history, deception, and forgiveness in the tale of two women who are forced to confront the legacy of their youth, set in the deep south of the last decades of the twentieth century, and written in the unique language and viewpoints of the characters themselves.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Sample chapter is up on my Goodreads page, here’s the link: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/282898-lucky-southern-women?chapter=0.
LOCAL OUTLETS: The publisher’s website! www.propertiuspress.com.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Also Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iStore, and all major retail and online outlets.
PRICE: $3.99 ebook, $16.99 paperback.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: https://www.facebook.com/susannaheanes/