This book came suggested to me as part of an email discussion group’s response to a request for interesting stories about outspoken women of mature years…old broads was one term used during the discussion, though that was not universally the agreed upon term. I’m not committing myself to which term is best for determined women of a certain age, but the book was a fun diversion for the afternoon.
Set in western North Carolina, this is the first of a series about “Miss Julia”. In this first book, Miss Julia was recently widowed when her husband, Wesley Lloyd, keeled over from a heart attack, draped over the steering wheel of his brand spang new Buick in the driveway. After forty-four years of being a dutifully subordinate wife and help-meet to one of the pillars of the local Presbyterian church, Miss Julia is beginning to enjoy having her husband’s money without having to put up with her husband, who was, to put it kindly, a condescending “Papa knows best” type…when a spanner gets lobbed into her works. Her husband’s mistress of long standing, one Hazel Marie Puckett, leaves Wesley Lloyd Junior—the bastard child of the dead husband—on Miss Julia’s doorstep and heads off for beautician school.
Needless to say Miss Julia is both gobsmacked and furious: who wouldn’t be after finding out there was a mistress that everyone else knew about but never bothered to mention it to the wife? The rest of the book is spent approximately equally fending off her pastor, who was under the impression that his church was to inherit her husband’s estate, and sorting out the mistress’ somewhat complex family entanglements—largely her smarmy televangelist uncle and greasily thuggish cousins’ impression that she was to inherit Wesley Lloyd’s estate. Televangelist Uncle kidnaps Wesley Lloyd Jr in order to convince Hazel Marie to hand over her presumed inheritance, prompting a rescue attempt by Miss Julia, who’s never driven on the freeway before, Hazel Marie, who’s just been worked over thoroughly by Thuggish Cousins, and Julia’s black maid, Lillian. With the assistance of a cadre of truckers, and a couple of hundred dollar bills, they make it home with Wesley Lloyd Jr….only to find that Wesley Lloyd Sr. left a will superseding the one in the lawyer’s office leaving everything to Hazel Marie and Wesley Lloyd Jr.
Fortunately, the retired lawyer (and family friend) who wrote will #1 straightens out not only the women’s financial status relative to one another but ultimately Miss Julia’s entanglements with the pastor.
Was it great literature? No, not by a long shot. Could it be an enjoyable read? Probably, but don’t stop to think too carefully about some of the underlying plot assumptions. How many of us would be willing to not only live with the woman with whom your husband committed adultery, but help to raise their child? In the context of the book, it actually works: the child’s got a stable home with loving mama and “grand”mama and doting cook, and the two women can have a life of their own, absent any of the men in their lives, who, quite frankly, came up a little short once all’s said and done. If there’s such a thing as “cozy Southern Gothic”, this is it; Faulkner’s in no danger, but these might make an amusing afternoon’s diversion.