By: Carol Manley
Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson
Livingston Press, 2008
In her collection of short stories aptly titled Church Booty, Carol Manley leads her readers on an excursion through the most exotic American landscape. The route she chooses meanders through the Bible Belt, a praying place that punctuates error with lashing tongues and caustic looks. And the natives she introduces may be as white as a Sunday dinner apron or as black as the dirt of our own Black Belt soil. Regardless of color, each of these characters believes either in the power of the Holy Ghost to reward and punish or the power of the faithful and the faithless to persevere. Along the way, reading travelers learn a thing or two about what it means to grow up saddled with religious anxiety amid the changing color lines of the humid clime of the Deep South.
With nineteen stories in this comprehensive collection, it seems that Manley has left no stone unturned as she reveals various secrets of the southern condition. Teen mothers, interracial unions, less-than-holy church fathers, church sisters who cure the ailing hearts of their holy brethren with the soft folds and offerings of their bodies, weekend revelers who must be slain in the spirit early Sunday morning and who regain entry through pearly gates come Judgment Day are the heroes Manley’ s stories feature. These stories are as real but surprising as the region that delivers them. Hard stories. Heartbreaking stories. Stories that make you wonder if you have ever seen the real South at all. Stories that remind you of home towns and force you to admit that these characters were people you knew, people you passed, sometimes people you ignored, people across the tracks. Maybe you would have been surprised to find they could read, but what Manley does to open your eyes to their plight proves that these are people with stories to tell, people whose lives are significant, literary, educating. Focusing each tale on a different set of characters, Manley proves that "one thing can lead to another in ways you never expect."
Even as she shares hard truths to open the eyes and hearts of her readers, Manley manages to tell her tales with a sense of humor that is pervasive. Her clever wit prevails as she reminds her readers that these characters represent real people, neighbors, brethren. They are people who prove that change has happened, may still happen, should happen. The path that leads to their deliverance and your own begins with a book. Manley leads the way. Read the stories, savor them in your hearts, and be changed forever.
Treasure Ingels-Thompson lives and writes in Montevallo.