Monday, February 15, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella

My momma believes all babies to be gifts from God, no matter what. ~ Opening of My Sweet Vidalia
 

My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella
Turner Publishing, 2015
Fiction; 272 pgs

From Goodreads: 
On July 4, 1955, in rural Georgia, an act of violence threatens the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal's pre-born daughter. Despite the direst of circumstances, the spirit of the lost child refuses to leave her ill-equipped young mother's side.

For as long as she is needed―through troubled pregnancies, through poverty, through spousal abuse and agonizing betrayals―Cieli Mae, the determined spirit child, narrates their journey. Serving as a safe place and sounding board for Vidalia's innermost thoughts and confusions, lending a strength to her momma's emerging voice, Cieli Mae provides her own special brand of comfort and encouragement, all the while honoring the restrictions imposed by her otherworldly status.

Vidalia finds further support in such unlikely townsfolk and relations as Doc Feldman, Gamma Gert and her Wild Women of God, and, most particularly, in Ruby Pearl Banks, the kind, courageous church lady, who has suffered her own share of heartache in their small Southern town of yesteryear's prejudices and presumptions.
I was drawn to this novel because of the setting and the description: set in the South in the 1950's, it is a novel about a woman living a hard life. Vidalia Lee Kandal is kindhearted. She got good grades in school, but was a bit of an outcast. It made her easy prey for the likes of JB, a man with his own insecurities and leanings toward cruelty. The two eventually marry and Vidalia remains faithful to him despite emotional and physical abuse he heaps on her.

Domestic violence is an extremely important topic that deserves attention and needs to be talked about. The author does a good job of presenting a very realistic glimpse into the life of a victim of domestic violence. Although the novel takes place over sixty years ago, it could very well represent some situations today, sad to say. The times certainly played their part though. My heart ached for sweet Vidalia, who remains amazingly good-hearted despite everything, but even more so for her children. You have the people who help in limited ways: the doctor, the women from the local churches, and other townsfolk. It would be easy to wish Vidalia had left JB early on (I know I did), but nothing is every that simple, especially in a relationship involving domestic violence.

I had no sympathy or even empathy for JB. He is a despicable character. There was nothing good about him, no glimmer of remorse, or a kinder side to him. Although his mother annoyed me much of the time, I could understand where she was coming from. She loved her son, wanted to see and believe the best in him despite everything. I adored Ruby Pearl Banks, a black woman who takes Vidalia under her wing. Her own story intrigued me. I wish she'd made an appearance earlier in the novel. She's the only character I didn't want to kick some sense into. Even Doc Feldman, who did what he could to help Vidalia, should have done more, I felt.

What make this novel stand out is that it is narrated by Vidalia and JB's unborn baby, one which Vidalia miscarries. The spirit of the unborn child, Cieli Mae, hangs on, staying with her mother, observing and helping her through the roughest of times. I did not quite buy into Cieli Mae's role in the novel, as much as I wanted to. At times she seemed like a splinter of her mother because of Vidalia's stress and hopelessness. I might have bought that more easily.

My Sweet Vidalia is a very sad novel. Even with Vidalia's flicker of hope and Cieli Mae's efforts to keep that going, I found this to be a depressing read. At the risk of spoiling the novel, it doesn't stay that way. There is hope. There is redemption of sorts. And I was quite satisfied with the ending. I might have fist pumped the air at one point.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about My Sweet Vidalia. While pulled into the novel immediately, I found it slow going after awhile with not much character growth or story development. It does pick up, fortunately. Even despite my inability to completely buy into Cieli Mae as the narrator, I liked Deborah Mantella's writing. The story was rather predictable, but compelling just the same. This book may not have been the best fit for me, but it has garnered much praise from other readers, including several along the tour route. I hope you will check out their reviews before accepting my word for this book. I would be interested to try something else by the author.


To learn more about Deborah Mantella and her work, please visit the author's websiteShe can also be found on GoodreadsTwitterand Facebook.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about My Sweet Vidalia on the TLC Book Tours route!



Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.


© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

18 comments:

  1. I'm trying to read more Southern novels, as I tend to gravitate to New York/New England authors, somehow. Thanks for the thoughtful review and for bringing this book to my attention!

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    1. Laurie C - This one has a good Southern feel to it. If you do read it, I hope you like it!

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  2. I''m not sure I'd like narration by the spirit of a child. This does sound sad.

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    1. Kathy - I think the concept was what made it a little hard for me to buy into, but it actually doesn't hurt the story or the flow of events. It really is a sad book.

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  3. I think I'll give this one a pass. Not in the mood right now for a sad or depressing novel, even if the message is important.

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    1. Jenclair - Knowing your reading tastes somewhat, I imagine that's a good idea.

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  4. For some reason reading that synopsis made me think the book was set a lot earlier than the 50's.

    A novel I can see myself reading but I feel it is probably one of those books I'd have to be in the right frame of mind to read as some of those issues sound really heavy.

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    1. Tracy - I think so too--it isn't a book you would turn to if you want something light.

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  5. Hmm... This is somewhat intriguing but it sounds a bit too depressing for me. This is a plot that I struggle with in general and to feel like you're trudging through parts of it makes me even more hesitant. It sounds like an interesting book but probably not for me. I'm glad that overall you got something out of it.

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    1. Katherine - I was intrigued from the description too. Quite a number of people really like it, and I'm sure others might too.

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  6. Sounds unusual though I do not know whether it will engage me for the duration of a full book.

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    1. Mystica - It's a compelling enough read. I really wanted to know what would happen to poor Vidalia. The narration by the unborn child wasn't too distracting, just hard for me to buy into on the surface.

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  7. This definitely doesn't sound like an easy read. I'll keep this book in mind though if the mood calls for it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wendy.

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    1. Melody - It wasn't. It was painful at times, given the amount of abuse Vidalia endured. It just went on and on and on. Very sad.

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  8. I don't know if I can read this one. But it sounds so so beautiful. Maybe someday when I am not too emotional.

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    1. Athira - Yes, definitely wait until you are in more of a mood for this one if you decide to read it.

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  9. What a heartbreaking story ... I can see how this may be a difficult read. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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