Sunday, January 20, 2013

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth was a pleasant surprise. I picked up this book in the airport, the cover drew me in (I'm a sucker for a matte cover with good, nostalgic artwork) and started reading it right away. The story unfolds in the swamps of Florida where alligator hunting women and Yankees mingle in comfortable uncomfortableness.

Dora, the narrator, but not always the protagonist of this quaint and charming book, is looking back on her life; on a time when an awkward group of women (and one "sweet" man) formed the first ever book club headed up by none other than Jackie Hart. Jackie is the new girl in town, from the North, which might as well be the same as saying she were from Hades as far as these small-towners are concerned. Jackie is progressive, a thinker, and hates to be called a housewife. Finding Collier County just a bit dull, and nothing like her native Boston, Jackie sets out to create culture in a town where the biggest event of the year is a festival celebrating mud.

It isn't long before she gathers together a misfit group of women that all like to read. And it's quite the group: one librarian, one divorcee, one parolee, one sweet man, one "plain Jane," one negro girl (did I mention this book is set in the early sixties before the Civil Rights movement?), and one Yankee "bitch" all gathered together to discuss the literary merits of what books they can actually agree to read.

But, as with book clubs, life becomes a viable piece of discussion matter outside the pages of the text and the odd little group finds themselves knitted closely to one another so that the fabric of their lives becomes one in the same. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said, "Well behaved women rarely make history," these women, and Robbie-Lee, turn the town upside down, often without knowing they've done it. And no one suspects that one of their members holds the biggest surprise of all!

The women, and Robbie-Lee, are so charming in this book. Hearth has done a wonderful job of creating likable and interesting characters. This doesn't mean that it's always peaches and cream, there are struggles and troubles, but all her people behave inline with their personalities; a trait I've found lacking in the last few books I read. It felt like the authors were trying to hard to create "surprise" moments, but the truth is, "there's just one kind of folks, folks" and it's best to let them behave as they should. Most people don't do much "out of character" in real life and I found comfort in that quality within Hearth's writing.

I laughed, I cried, I wanted to be in their group. I wanted to discuss the merits of Eudora Welty and be there for the reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. I wanted to revel in their efforts to make their lives better, and help when they found themselves hurting. I think, for me, the idea of the unlikely friends is so charming, because in my own life I've found those are often the best ones.

Amy Hill Hearth has a definite "hit" on her hands with this novel and I look forward to more work from her. 5 out 5 on this one - it's a book I'd read again and again.

Miss Dreamsville is not Amy Hill Hearth's first novel even though it is considered her debut novel. For more information and books by Ms. Hearth, visit her website at http://www.amyhillhearth.com

She is a former journalist and the author or coauthor of multiple non-fiction works. She claims she's an "East-coast" gal but has lived in both the North and the South equally.

She is a graduate of the University of Tampa.

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