Posts Tagged ‘Good Ol’ Girls’

It was one of those magic nights of words and music and laughter. I can close my eyes and I’m right back at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, listening to writer Lee Smith and songwriters Marshall Chapman and Matraca Berg play around with the beginnings of a musical based on Smith’s short stories and those of fellow author Jill McCorkle.  They were talking and singing about Southern girls and women with big hair and big hearts, and the audience nudged the performers along with chuckles, even as Smith was explaining, “we haven’t really got this part finished, but here goes…”

Now Good Ol’ Girls, a new musical written and adapted by Paul Ferguson  based on stories by Smith and McCorkle, with songs by Chapman and Berg, is finishing up a limited engagement Off-Broadway this week. I hear it’s been quite the crowd-pleaser, and I don’t doubt it. Hope to see it one day.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger: New and Selected Stories by Smith, pleased to encounter seven old favorites and discovering seven new ones. What ties all these tales together is Smith’s obvious affection and respect for her “ordinary” characters and her skill at rendering their lives in realistic fashion. She catches many of them at turning points.

In the beginning of ”Bob, a Dog,”  Cheryl watches her husband, David, walk out on their longtime marriage, saying he needs a different life. ”Cheryl stood in the doorway and watched him go and couldn’t imagine a different life.” David’s departure pulls Cheryl up short, forcing change upon her. In other stories, characters also experience moments of epiphany in the face of unexpected love or grief.

In ”Intensive Care,” Harold Stikes, former high-school nerd and owner of three Food Lions, left his wife and three children for redheaded waitress Cherry Oxendine, ”a fallen woman with a checkered past.” Now Cherry is dying, and Harold is stunned that they only had three years together and ”a million laughs.” But Harold wouldn’t trade that time with Cherry, even though his friends have called him a fool. ”He stepped out of his average life for her, he gave up being a good man, but the rewards have been extraordinary.”

The rewards of these stories are extraordinary as well. “House Tour,” one of the new stories, depicts a clash of cultures when a group of red-hatted women mistake an academic Yankee couple’s old Victorian for a stop on the Christmas home tour. The jaded wife, Lynn, is so disconcerted by their presence that she finds herself apologizing for her life and creating a ghost story on the spot. Then her philandering husband shows up in the kitchen, several of the ladies return for wine and some poundcake, and Lynn is encouraged to perhaps release her “inner child,” or at least buy some sexy high heels.

Possibility and change also challenge the women in McCorkle’s Going Away Shoes, her most recent collection, which I read last fall.  The humor is tart and the mood often dark, but you’ll want to meet these “good ol’ girls,” too.

Open Book: I know both McCorkle and Smith. I stopped reviewing Smith’s books in the Orlando Sentinel after 2003 because she gave a generous blurb to the first Caroline Cousins’ novel, Fiddle Dee Death, and I wanted to avoid any conflict of interest. But I didn’t stop reading her novels or stories. Both Smith and McCorkle are published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, which sent me review copies of Mrs. Darcy Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger and Going Away Shoes. Thank you.

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