Saturday, September 16, 2006

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross (1999)

Somewhere in the blogosphere, I had seen this title recommended, I thought, when I saw it at a church rummage sale for 25 cents. I snapped it up--and was so glad I did! Light reads are all I'm getting around to these days, and this was a satisfying story I think most in my audience would enjoy. It had a feel similar to Jan Karon's or Alexander McCall Smith's books.

Before any more comparisons, however, I must emphasize that Miss Julia herself is a refreshingly unique character. She is "a lady of a certain age," freed from the bonds of marriage by her husband's recent death, who quickly discovers just how deep that bondage was when his illegitimate son is deposited on her doorstep. She also learns that after making do on a small allowance for years, she now has millions--and she's enjoying her new freedom, in her own upright Southern Presbyterian way. Written in the first person, her "voice" is my favorite thing about this book:

I licked a finger and turned a page in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, wondering what [my lawyers] would say if I ordered a few trinkets from it. I declare, some of the offering were for people with more money than sense, a condition that didn't apply to me, I'm happy to say. I expect, though, that any number of people would've said it did if they'd known the full extent of Wesley Lloyd's prudence and oversight.

However. His prudence and foresight hadn't taken heart attacks into account. I knew as sure as I was sitting there he never intended to leave me in charge of everything he owned. I knew it as soon as Pastor Ledbetter came sidling up to me not two days after laying Wesley Lloyd to rest, telling me he knew I'd want to honor Mr. Springer's last make the First Presbyterian Church his main beneficiary...who'd dole me out an allowance every month.

And speaking of which, you wouldn't believe the phone calls and circulars and brochures and letters on embossed stationery that had come to me from investment counselors, financial advisors, estate planners, and you name it, wanting me to turn my assets over to them....If I'd just let them take care of everything, I would be assured of an allowance dribbled out every quarter throughout my lifetime. Well, I'd been on an allowance for fourty-four years, thank you, and having it all was better.

And this one's for my Anglican friends, especially:

...if [Pastor Ledbetter] brought up Wesley Lloyd's estate again, I decided I'd transfer my membership. Maybe to the Episcopal church, where grown men get down on their knees. Which a lot of men, including the Presbyterian kind, ought to try.

Set in the South, in a small town peopled with memorable characters, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind reminded me a bit of the Mitford series, though these characters are mostly not as lovingly drawn as those that reside in Mitford--Miss Julia tends to be a sourpuss toward most folks. Like The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, it falls into my mental category of a "gentle mystery," in which there are problems to be solved, but they are secondary to character development. Miss Julia is a tad higher on the excitement scale, though, with a double kidnapping, a high-speed car chase (Miss Julia's first time on a freeway) and an embarrassing attack of what is misdiagnosed as nymphomania.

This book reminded me, interestingly, of one of L.M. Montgomery's lesser-known books called The Blue Castle. (L.M. is better known as the author of Anne of Green Gables.) In The Blue Castle, a 29-year-old girl receives the news that she only has limited time to live. (She's mistaken, but doesn't find out till later). She quickly discovers passions and desires for her future that she has sublimated in deference to her mother and aunt, and like Miss Julia, she begins to do what pleases her, instead of always pleasing others. Both books explore the lines between co-dependency and the true self and between selfishness and self-fulfillment, which I've always found intriguing.

Finally, I've just discovered that this is the first in a series of Miss Julia books! Has anyone read any more of them? Are they all worth reading?

For more book reviews, or to link your own, check out Semicolon's weekly Saturday Review of Books!


Jennifer said...

The Blue Castle is one of my favorite books that I re-read often! It's one of my all time favorites. I haven't read the Miss Julia books, though I was thinking about reading them after seeing them at the bookstore. I was going to see if the library has them first. Another series I like, more mystery genre is The "Jane Austin" mysteries. A good read if you liked Jane Austin's books.
Jenny (homeiswhereyoustartfrom)

Anonymous said...

I've read all but the last two Miss Julia's and really enjoyed them as light, beach-type reading. The latest one out and the one right before it I did not enjoy. It seemed that Miss Julia just got downright silly and it didn't seem to be the character development as much as the writing style. Other than those, I thought Miss Julia was a hoot!
Seasonal Soundings

Sheila said...

When preparing for a long drive, I recently grabbed the "Miss Julia" recorded book off a library display shelf. What a pleasant surprise! Though both Ross and Karon write stories situated in southern culture, the "grits" and and the "grace" that they share strike me as very different. Miss Julia is, justifiably, cynical about the institutional church. The grace displayed, though ultimately triumphant and penetrating, has more "grudge" to it at the beginning. I agree that Miss Julia's "voice" is the best part of the story, steeped in the colorful and vivid expressions unique to the south. Karen White (who also narrated "The Secret Life of Bees") was the narrator of my story, and she did the accent especially well - a great way to experience Miss Julia's "voice."

Islandsparrow said...

Blue Castle is one of my favourites - I haven't read the Miss Julia series yet but I enjoy Jan Karon so I'll give it a try!