Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Anne George's Southern Sister Series

Thursday evening was another wild ride, writes Jeannine. Twenty people make for a big discussion group, and sometimes this means three or four discussions going on at the same time. Not pretty. But this time I was prepared. No pounding on the table with a book this time, I had a concierge bell and I wasn’t afraid to use it. A lot. Ding ding ding. And if that didn’t work, or someone monopolized the discussion, I had my next line of defense, my secret weapon, my Duct Tape. And I did threaten a few people with it. Okay, one person. Several times. Either she’s very very bad, or the power has gone to my head. Maybe someone else should hold the duct tape next time. I’m NOT giving up the bell.

Ding ding ding.

Back to the book discussion. We discussed the Southern Sisters series by Anne George. There are eight books in the series – the author died a few years ago, so unfortunately there will be no more – that feature a mismatched pair of sisters who live in Birmingham, Alabama. The flamboyant Mary Alice, “Sister,” is a large 6’ tall woman always ready to set the style, have some
fun, and find a new husband while she’s at it (they keep dying and leaving her with huge bank accounts). Her sister Patricia Ann, “Mouse,” is 5’ tall, happily married to her first and only husband, and the practical, down-to-earth one of the two. Extended family ties and Sister’s adventurous lifestyle draw the pair into a wide range of mayhem set throughout the contemporary South.

We went around the table to find out which book each person read and what they thought about it. The first several enjoyed the books, some read more than one, and especially liked the personalities of the main characters and how they interacted with each other and other characters, and the humor with which they dealt with life. One person mentioned how she liked the nicknames, and how “Sister” became “Aunt Sister” to Patricia Ann’s children. Several found the Southern manners and euphemisms entertaining, and how delicately things were explained. People don’t simply die, they “pass.”

The next few people also liked the books, but said a certain suspension of disbelief was necessary, but that then there were enough twists and turns to keep the plot interesting. We happened to have two sets of sisters among the members that night, and asked the first set if they were anything like the Southern Sisters. They said not at all, and they did not have nicknames either, but were prompted by another member to relate their own tale of murder. It seems that when they were girls, one was not allowed to play with the other’s paper dolls, so she would rip the dolls’ heads off. The heads would then be taped back on. She’d rip them back off. Can’t you just feel the relish of that rip? Arhh!!

Now we come to the side of the room less than enchanted with the series. One person kept losing the track of the mystery, but did like the sisters’ rules of Southern women: Southern women are never tacky, never common, and never ever as common as pig tracks. And then our next duo of sisters didn’t like the writing, thought nothing was happening, and didn’t believe the relationship between the sisters at all.
They were thoroughly disgusted. Our final naysayer normally enjoys cozies, but said this one was a bit “too cozy,” and had no sense of place.

Then it’s back to the positive reviews. Our next member’s grandparents came from Alabama, and she felt the language and atmosphere were quite realistic. She thought there were some interesting characters, and that it made for a “comfortable” read. Others in this corner said their family does say “Brother” and “Sister” like in the book, and thought Murder Boogies with Elvis was a “hoot and holler,” very entertaining. Another loved the books for the humor, not the mystery. She found it amusing that a suicide was pinpointed as a murder instead, because the sisters knew that it was a mark of a true Southern lady to know that jumping from the top of a building was not ladylike.

One member tried one of the titles – Murder gets a life – on a book-on-tape and loved having the accent punctuate the story. She found it amusing to hear about to older ladies sitting around drinking coke (unheard of in some places), and used some of their sayings to torment her teenagers (being irrational to make them think rationally), her favorite
being “if you drink 3 glasses of water fast it will kill you.” Throw that into a conversation and see what happens. And her all-time favorite line was when Mouse was at lunch with her sister and another woman, listening to whatever mischief Sister was up to, and “that’s when it dawned on me….I’m having lunch with two dingbats.”

The last two members also enjoyed the interaction between the characters more than the mystery, and thought the Southern culture and humor more than made up for any plot weaknesses. One also recommended another Southern series, the bloodhound series of Virginia Lanier (also dead, now that I think about it, hmm). Her favorite regulars from George’s books were Bubba and Vulcan. Bubba is the cat who sleeps on the kitchen counter on his very own heating pad, and he never moves. Mouse isn’t even sure if they can tell if he’s alive or dead, he’s always asleep. Always. And mentioned in many of the titles is the statue of Vulcan. This is a very real statue overlooking Birmingham. Patricia Ann and her husband have a house behind it, with a charming view of Vulcan’s, um, er, behind, also known as the “moon side” (see attachment for the correct view). One of the members asked why Birmingham has a statue of Vulcan. According to the park’s website, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and forge and has represented Birmingham for over 100 years – Birmingham evidently has a history of steel-making. Yes, it has to be said, Patricia Ann house has a view of “buns of steel.” No, you can’t pin that one on me, but I did laugh with the rest.

For more information about Anne George and her writing, take a look here. This is a very nice fan site that includes a synopsis of each book and links to related subjects.
Ding ding ding. We did have a few “extra” discussions pop up. I did use the bell. I did not use the duct tape. I did wave it around, though. All threat, no action. We’re actually a very civilized group, just a little too enthusiastic on occasion. Don’t be afraid – come join us. Our decorations were simple again this meeting. We had lots of books (we always manage that!) about Southern women, Southern culture, and Southern cooking, and pictures of Birmingham, the statue of Vulcan (from several views), and assorted scenes from the series (including Elvis impersonators and snake-handling church-goers). Refreshments were Southern delights – carrot cake, okra pickles, sweet potato chips and molasses cookies dressed up like Thanksgiving turkeys.