Charms for Easy Life T - Kaye Gibbons

This belongs to a genre that I'm not generally fond of, southern small-town stories of generational ties with eccentric characters; as the front cover blurb has it, "as invigorating as sarsaparilla and as soothing as lemon-balm tea". They always seem to feature women who are not only independent and self-achievers, but staunchly anti-racist throughout the whole 20th century. Still, Charms for the Easy Life is incontestably well-written, and it pretty much steers clear of the traps of sentimentality and "quirkiness". My reason for being disappointed in it is the one-note portrayals of the characters. The constant center of attention is the narrator's grandmother, formidable Charlie Kate Birch, healer of sicknesses and straightener-out of minds; we are told over and over how everyone respects her after she contradicts them, how she sees people not treating each other right and gives them a piece of her mind; except for her husband leaving her, she is very nearly invincible, and her victories are always easy. Above all, she's concerned to get her daughter and granddaughter happily married off. She is shadowed by the narrator, her meek granddaughter Margaret, who never does anything except what Charlie Kate says, never wants anything but what the matriarch wants, and is totally convinced that her life will be arranged for her: and lo, an absolutely perfect husband turns up out of the blue, and the courtship goes without a hitch with the grandmother directing it. I thought that Margaret would grow into independence over the course of the book, but no, when her grandmother dies she's more helpless than ever, and will evidently be guided both by people around her and by Charlie Kate's memory. Really, the title is apt, all three generations truly lead a charmed life, things are easy for them, and only Charlie Kate seems remotely to have earned it.