Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Shag carpet and avocado appliances

Jill McCorkle has this uncanny ability to delve deep into the mindset of each and every one of her characters. For this reason, her writing is some of the most relatable and realistic I've encountered. She also writes about the South. And for these reasons...I looooooove her!

My latest of McCorkle reads is Ferris Beach, the story of Mary Katherine "Kitty" Burns growing up in 1970s North Carolina. Kate is the only child of two middle-aged parents, Cleva and Frank, that she finds mismatched, liking them to Jack Sprat and his wife. Life at the Burns house holds little excitement for Kate, save the occasional appearance of her older cousin Angela who blows in from the nearby Ferris Beach and seems to always bring with her a storm. Kate equates Angela and Ferris Beach with everything her own life lacks—glamour, excitement, sophistication—but her imagination masks the underlying tension between Angela and Cleva that Kate won't discover until she's older and the glitter has faded.

When Misty Rhodes moves from Ferris Beach into the new housing development across from the Burns' house, Kate finds a best friend whose life is practically the exact opposite of her own. Misty is bold, fun, and vivacious with an eccentric mother, Mo, that contrasts Kate's reserved and practical one. Kate depends on Misty for excitement. No one else has forced Kate out of her comfort zone, into a world and mentality that extends beyond their small neighborhood. They live in a world of childhood and adolescent dreams until a sudden event one Fourth of July forces them to grow up fast.

So much happens in Ferris Beach that it's kind of hard to review. It's a coming-of-age story; it's the portrait of a character; it's a look at her environment; it's a snapshot of the times. It pinpoints the awkwardness and constant yearning that comes with adolescence. It's simple but complicated by its characters, who are raw with real interactions and relationships in which history and class sometimes play a role. Kate is a bit of a passive character. Some may find her boring, but I found her incredibly relatable when you look back on those teen years. It's like when you sometimes feel so awkward, like you just don't fit in anywhere, that it's better to stand back and watch than risk active participation.

And the setting is great. Avocado-colored appliances and shag carpet were before my time, but it made me want to hop in a car and drive home where I can lay on the ground under the trees, look up through the branches, and be completely alone with my thoughts.

Read my interview with Jill McCorkle here.

Ferris Beach was originally published in 1990 and re-released in September by Algonquin.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Thanks, Gillian!

1 comment:

Salvatore said...

"Avocado-colored appliances and shag carpet" - sounds amusing at that sole description.