By Kaye Gibbons
254 pages
New York: Avon Books, 1993.
ISBN # 0-380-72557-6

Comments of Bob Corbett
November 2002

In this charming warm story we follow three women over forty years – grandmother, mother and daughter, mainly lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. The story spans the life of folk healer and grandmother, Charlie Kate from her 20th year until she died in the middle of World War II.

Charlie Kate was a self-assured, radically independent, financially secure woman, as wise as Solomon. The story is told by her granddaughter, Margaret, born in 1924. Margaret’s mother, Sophia, is the remaining main character. The three women live lives mainly without men, at least until late in the novel. Eventually both Sophia and Margaret find profound loves with wonderful men. Perhaps it is these loves which allowed Charlie Kate the freedom to die in such peace.

Kaye Gibbons tells a wonderful story with convincing and intriguing tales of the healing practices of Charlie Kate. The novel is filled with goodness, love, understanding, wit and intelligence. It is a delight to read, but its very goodness is so overdone that the story has much more the air of a romantic fantasy than the story of real people. Each of the three is a bit too much:

However, it is Margaret who tells the story, not author Gibbons. I reflected a while as to whether the Pollyannaish tale really fits the character of Margaret, and thus could be seen as a specially clever character creation by Gibbons. Perhaps so, however, if this is how to read the novel, the character of Margaret is just too blind to reality to have given us the most real version of these three lives which would have been richer were there more complexity; more tension.

I “liked” the book a great deal. It was a good read and a delightfully fun and hopeful story about people I would have liked to know. But when reflecting on what I came away with, it was just all too sweet and lovely for me to take as much more than a fantasy of wishful thinking. I like my novels more hard hitting and provocative; more revealing of human existence as it really is.

Nonetheless, if one is in need of a joyful “pick-me-up" then this is the novel one needs.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett