In his latest novel, Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress introduces readers to a southern belle who makes Scarlet O’Hara seem tame by comparison.
Georgia is the sole support of her family, and she tries always to put her best foot forward to maintain the family image of genteel wealth. That’s hard to do with a no-account brother who’s rarely employed in anything legal and an elderly mother who is losing touch with reality and who daily rails against that “evil Rosa Parks” whom she blames for everything wrong with this new South of 2001.
To maintain her image, Georgia sweats it out every Sunday in a sweltering hot church. She sits elegantly dressed and shod in her family’s pew because she must. Church is de rigueur in a small southern town, but showing face doesn’t mean she has to listen. She considers her manicure and contemplates whether a rebellious Jesus was a Tide fan to spite his Father, whom the preacher assures the congregation is an Auburn fan, as are most of the men in the church. She studies those around her and wonders if they, like she, are just there to show face, when suddenly the preacher catches her attention.
He’s about to repent his sins, and she is one of them. Her mind races; he can’t do this to her. What can she do? What would any southern belle do? She makes it to the church aisle and very convincingly faints dead away.
Thus begins Georgia’s personal hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is epic, but it’s not always huge and larger than life. Some are just like you and me and sweet Georgia Bottoms. She’s facing change against her will, trying desperately to hang onto the status quo, making difficult choices at every turn in a comedy of personal and serious world events that conspire against her and turn her world upside down.
Georgia is making it on her own terms. She’s not exactly Louise Wooster, nor the fictional Belle Watley, but she is a woman with a heart of gold making her way the only way she knows how for herself and her own.
This is a delicious Southern novel full of colorful language. No political correctness here. Stories about real people are rarely PC.
This is a story about endings that lead to beginnings, the face we show the world, and the face that’s true. It’s about knowing when the price of saving face is too high. Georgia faces that ultimate choice, and she shines. March 2011
Perle Champion is a freelance writer and artist in Birmingham.