Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: The Moon's Warm Embrace

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Last week I saw the Broadway opening of playwright Tracy Letts' new show, 'Superior Donuts.' Letts' previous show, 'August: Osage County,' won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and enjoyed a long, successful run on Broadway. So of course, when his new show opened, everyone immediately compared it to his last one, when the two are very different. 

I hate this kind of comparison. It irritates me when an author's books or movies or plays are compared to each other in quality (particularly when one has been saturated in praise) rather than critiqued as independent works.

Rebecca Wells' The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder seems to have gotten trapped in this pattern. The success of her previous Ya-Ya novels left high expectations for Crowning Glory, the first of her four books to feature new and different characters. The majority of reviews I read expressed disappointment with Wells' new novel, but I really don't understand them and completely disagree.

Calla Lily Ponder is the protagonist of the story, and we follow her life as she transitions from childhood to adulthood in the small town of La Luna, Louisiana. Calla enjoys a blissful childhood, soaking in the compassionate love of her hairdresser mother, M'Dear, and the nurturing light of the Moon Lady--"the feminine force that will guide and protect her throughout her life." Calla's childhood is defined by innocence until she is forced to grow up fast. Hometown heartbreaks lead Calla to New Orleans after high school to take up where M'Dear left off with her "healing hands." Calla enrolls at L'Academie de Beaute de Crescent as a fresh start, determined to develop her skill and passion for soothing pain and changing lives. But of course, New Orleans also brings a whole slew of new friends and a whole slew of new troubles.

This book had me hooked by the second chapter and crying by about the sixth. Wells' writing, as usual, oozes southern charm. She has created another leading character that is defined by her southern upbringing, one that is tied so tightly to her setting that she couldn't exist anywhere else. Family, love, heartbreak...the themes and emotions of the story are universal, but Calla is not. I loved the characters and their depth of emotion at very realistic situations.

Though it takes about four hundred pages to do so, this book is essentially telling you one thing: love, live, dance often, and believe that life (and the people in it) is basically good. So maybe that is more than one thing, but you get the gist.

5 comments:

Salvatore said...

Work should be able to exist on its own. It's just too easy to compare it to an author's last work. But a good criticism should exist mainly within the work it's describing; it's just naturally buttressed better that way.

Sounds like this one was a rollercoaster of sorts.

Heather said...

I had wondered about this one, but hadn't seen any reviews yet. I enjoyed the Ya-Ya books and can see where the new book would be compared to them; fair or not. I think I'll still give it a try; I think Wells is pretty charming and I don't mind new characters!

Nicole said...

I would like to read a Rebecca Wells book because I hear such great things about her writing. I might be able to start with this one. I tried reading The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, but it just didn't hold my attention.

Dottie said...

I loved this book, and I can't compare it to YaYa because I didn't read it. I grew up in a small town in the south and, just like Calla, felt the thrills and heartache of young love. It's a good read and very heartwarming.

deedy said...

I am reading it now... please tell me i will STOP crying!