Sunday, September 13, 2009

#BookReview: Where the Dreams Cross - Ellen Douglas

Nat Stonebridge is who I imagine Scarlett O'Hara would be if she were living in the 1960s Mississippi Delta. In college, her reputation was "known in certain circles from Vanderbilt and Sewanee all the way down the college circuit to Tulane..." Recently divorced, the former belle of Philippi, Mississippi, Nat always causes a stir when she returns to town, to the embarrassment of her Aunt Louise.

In Nat Stonebridge the author has created a devil may care character whose logic seems to follow no rhyme or reason much to the delight of this reader. Lamenting her lack of money or a husband to provide money, Nat has the following conversation with her cousin:

"Maybe if you got a job in a bank, you could marry the president," Wilburn said.

"I wouldn't," Nat said. "It would be immoral for me to marry again, and that's the the truth. I wouldn't mind being his mistress, if he was nice and didn't bother me too often, and if his wife didn't make any trouble; but I certainly wouldn't marry him."
In her quest to find a man with money, and help Aunt Louise & Uncle Aubrey, who have fallen on hard times, Nat takes up with Floyd Shotwell. Floyd is a loner from a "good" family who falls for her before realizing she only wants him for money. Agreeing that a platonic friendship is best for them, the arrangement works until they road trip to the Ole Miss football game and Floyd begins to see Nat for what she really is.

An Ellen Douglas book wouldn't be complete without a look at the sometimes complex relationships of blacks and whites. Though written in 1968 and set in the mid 1950s, one could almost believe that blacks and whites lived harmoniously in the Delta, were it not for glimpses into the lives of Aunt Louise's maid, Clakey, and Kilroy, the houseman at the local backwoods gambling spot. In fact, Louise sees herself as a concerned white woman, merely trying to assist the colored population by keeping things as they are. The following is a conversation between Aunt Louise and her niece, Anne Farish.

Aunt Louise, you really must not talk about the darkies when they can hear you. I'm surprised at you!

"Clakey's not interested in race relations," Miss Louise said. "And that's what I mean. It's people like this young man - stirring up darkies who don't know there is such a thing as race relations. Just you wait until they begin talking about integrating the schools... What are you going to say when Anne wants to bring some little brown girl home to play one afternoon? You're going to have to tell her whyshe can't. And do you know what that means? It means you're going to have to teach her to be prejudiced - a thing I certainly never had to do to you and Nat...It's a horrible complication of life that neither you nor I nor Clakey has ever had to contend with.
It's with certainty that the author wrote this with tongue in cheek. As a daughter of the south, there's no doubt Ellen Douglas witnessed conversations such as this. I'd be interested to know how she responded to such, though I think her writing gives a good representation of how she felt about such absurdity.

Though the storyline isn't particularly interesting, conversations such as the two I've mentioned above make this an entertaining and insightful read.
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