By: Michael Morris
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Via Brown
Harper One/HarperCollins Publishers, 2004
“Like a mosquito gone mad,” the steel needle of the sewing machine in the Haggar factory pounds into Erma Lee Jacobs’ index finger. Oozing out with the blood is thirty years of fearing her husband’s angry fist. She has already lost her daughter, Suzette, to drugs, prison, and a low-life husband, and when there’s no sympathy from even her mother, long a battered wife herself, Erma Lee knows it’s up to her to save her thirteen-year-old granddaughter from repeating history.
Instead of going home to Bozelle—Bozo, for short—Erma Lee leaves him a farewell note, collects her last paycheck from the factory, packs what belongings she can in her now-faded maroon Monte Carlo, picks up Cher—named for the “trashy” singer—from school and leaves a dusty trail out of Cross City, Louisiana. With thoughts of joining her rich cousin, Erma Lee heads to Wiregrass, Alabama, but soon finds that Lucille has been fooling the family and is just as bad off as everybody else.
With no place else to go, Erma Lee rents a rusty furnished mobile home in a trailer park in Wiregrass, and gets a job in the cafeteria at the school where she enrolls Cher. Seeing that she’s a good worker who needs extra money, the school principal hires Erma Lee to care for her elderly mother in the afternoons and on weekends.
One of the town’s wealthiest and most revered citizens, “Miss Claudia” Tyler is a strong and devout Christian woman who soon forms a bond with her “companion,” but when Cher’s convict daddy shows up, each woman is forced to confront not only her own troubled past, but her faith in God.
Domestic violence is a subject Michael Morris knows first hand, and in writing this story, winner of the Catherine Marshall Foundation’s Christy Award for Best First Novel, he confronts his own past. As a boy, he was surrounded by strong women and he uses their influence in creating the key roles. In the end, A Place Called Wiregrass becomes a study of fortitude.
Elizabeth Via Brown is a freelance writer in Montgomery.