The Dry Grass of August is the June selection of my book club. And once again, a selection has me pondering the reason for a book club. Other than spending a pleasant evening with friends, I guess the reason is to force me to read books that I otherwise would not. For my personal reading I gravitate to certain genres and authors, but book club forces me out of my comfort zone. And that’s a good thing, right?
Well-maybe not in this case. The Dry Grass of August is another book in the genre I like to call “depressing stories of ignorance and racism in the south in the 20th century”.
This novel centers on teenager Jubie Watts, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1954. Jubie, her mother, siblings, and Mary, the family’s maid, leave for vacation to visit Jubie’s uncle in Pensacola, Florida. The action is interspersed with flashbacks to Jubie’s early childhood and very recent past. Jubie’s father, Bill, is a violent drunk, and Jubie, inexplicably, is the target of his rage. Her mother, Pauly, is benignly neglectful of her four children, leaving the work of child rearing to the family’s “colored” maid. Mary is the one caring and stable adult presence in Jubie’s life.
The violence that is simmering below the surface erupts in a predictable way. This of course forces Jubie to grow up and rebel against her parents. Yawn!
This book has, in my opinion, nothing to add to the genre of the southern novel. The themes are stale; the characters I’ve met before. There remain three novels of the south worth reading: Gone With the Wind, The Sound and the Fury, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All the others are riffs on the same theme.
Published in softcover-Kensington-2011