Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress is what I’d call a kitchen sink novel (SPOILER ALERT). Childress threw everything in to make a story, and some of those things I liked and some I didn’t. (Side note: I listened to this as an audiobook from my car, and the Southern accent of the narrator was fun to listen to and not fake.) There were a lot of plot lines going on in the book, and while usually that keeps me turning the pages, this time I felt like each of the separate stories, if developed further, could be their own books.
For example, we had our main character and the namesake of the book’s title spending her time with married men bored with their wives at home. Each man spent one night a week with her discreetly at her home and helped finance her lifestyle. The only other thing she did for income was sell quilts handmade by African American women in a nearby community and pass them off as her own handiwork. The rest of her time was spent caring for her mother and brother, each with issues of their own, attending all of the small Alabama town’s social events, and regularly attending church. When Georgia was found out for both spending time with some of the town’s most influential married men and selling the quilts as though they were her own, she didn’t face the consequences I would have liked.
Near the beginning of the book, Georgia is preparing for an annual ladies’ luncheon she hosts at her home each September. All the women in town look forward to attending it each year. However, she’s all prepared for it that morning and no one shows up. It turns out that it’s because the date is September 11, 2001, and no one can move from their television sets and the coverage of the terrorist attacks to feel like celebrating at a leisurely luncheon. The book jumps on ahead from there, and I would have liked to have seen 9/11 strike more of a chord with Georgia. Was she inspired to do something different with her life to help others rather than exploit them? Did she use her group of lunching ladies to form a group that would raise money to help the victims’ families?
There are racial issues present in this little town. Georgia’s best friend Crystal was the mayor at the beginning of the story, and she runs for reelection against a well-respected African American doctor, Madeline. This episode was a small part in the book, but could have encompassed an entire book itself if drawn out more.
Finally, Georgia is facing what many Americans do every day by being responsible for taking care of other adult family members. Georgia’s mother is suffering from dementia and needs constant supervision and reassurance. Georgia’s brother is a religious fanatic who gets arrested for protesting the removal of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama state courthouse in Montgomery. She’s got her hands full with them both. Again, something that could have made for a relatable story if fleshed out more.
I enjoyed this book for the most part. The characters were honest, funny and believable (though Childress wrote Georgia to sound much older than her 34 years. She seemed to me more like a woman in her 50s would sound rather than someone my age), and all the story lines, though all thrown together, did keep me interested in hearing more.