A review by Leard R. Daughety
March 17, 2005
In choosing which book to review this time, I asked the ladies in the Library's Circulation Department to pick some titles that would appeal to some of our most frequent patrons. After looking over the three they had gathered, I selected Shem Creek, a Low Country Tale, by Dorthea Benton Frank mainly because of her endorsement by Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors.
For the majority of us, when we encounter times of crises in our lives, there is a strong desire to return to where our life began. That familiar place, even with all of its imperfections, that pulls us mentally or physically because we KNOW what to expect from the people and the landscape around them. Shem Creek centers around a period in the lives of Linda Breland and her two teenage daughters, Lindsay and Gracie who reside in New Jersey. Faced with life as a single mother after being left for another woman by her husband, Linda decides to return to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, her birthplace and to the comfort of Mimi, a sister that still lives there. Within a matter of days, Linda is hired to be the manager of a restaurant located on the banks of Shem Creek, which just happens to be co-owned by good looking Brad Jackson. Brad has also returned to his roots after being rejected by his Atlanta wife in favor of her childhood sweetheart. Linda first impresses Brad and the rest of the restaurant staff with her extremely firm handshake and no nonsense manner of doing things. Ms. Frank uses Mimi to illustrate one of the qualities that southern women are widely praised for when dealing with her niece Gracie. As Linda puts it:
"Gracie had yet to become fully acquainted with the grace and steel of my sister's spine. Mimi would muster up her strength, Gracie would find herself put in her proper place and she would never know how it happened. Gracie would never remember a battle or the pain of the fall, only that somehow, without a single raised voice or any kind of argument, she had come to a new point of view about things."
Gracie turns out to be my favorite of the book's many lively characters.
Unlike her sister Lindsay, who returns to New York to attend college, Gracie has to stay and make all of the adjustments that come with living in a completely foreign environment while finishing her last two years in high school. What makes all of this worthwhile from Gracie's standpoint is when she sees her mother actually being happy. The joy and peace that Linda finds in Mount Pleasant begins to spread into the unsuspecting life of her daughter as well. Of course there is enough romance in the book to satisfy anyone. It's a credit to the style of Frank's writing about the romances that she does not provide the many explicit details that would prevent a much younger reader from enjoying Shem Creek. As part of her author notes, Ms. Frank includes six delightful recipes in the final pages. With its positive themes and light story line, Shem Creek would be an excellent choice to take with you on vacation or to enjoy during one of our afternoon thunderstorms.