Friday, September 11, 2015

Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

Like many other books I picked up this summer, I found this book in the classroom of the teacher who was retiring. I watched the Ya Ya Sisterhood movie, but never read the book, so I was interested. I didn't realize that Little Altars Everywhere was a prequel. 

So... it's a collection of short stories about this family living in the south. It's about the children of 1 friend who is apart of a group of 4 friends. In the beginning of the book, the stories just seem to be stories that all children grow up with such as loss, friendship, loyalties, etc. For example, Siddalee is jealous of her cousin and her ballet teacher who end up getting together. She is pushed out and though she is getting older, she feels like a child. 

In the next chapter, Sidalee recounts her summers and how much fun they were at a Lake. It made me think of my own summers and it made me want to have children, go out with my best friends who also would have children and spend the summer in a big cabin in a small town by the lake. Though my husband and I were talking about children and our plan to have them, for the first time, it made it seem like it was fun to have kids...

However, the stories turned from typical childhood memories into something much darker. Gradually it's revealed that Vivienne and her friends are alcoholics who make very reckless decisions with their kids. Viv's marriage is in shambles and eventually Viv moves into the children's playroom to get away from her husband, Shep.

Then the stories got even darker. Viv found Jesus but used it to her advantage. She used religion to
manipulate her children.

Then the stories got even darker. The short stories are set in the deep south in the 60s, which is a backdrop for rampant classism and racism. Letty and Chase, who are an African American couple who live on the land and work for the Walkers, are familiar with the family, but never really family. Letty recounts when Viv comes home from Jesus retreat, she sends Letty home early. Letty has a feeling that something is going to happen and she goes outside to look across the property to the Walker house. Vivienne has the kids outside and they are naked. Vivi is whipping the kids unmercifully. Though they are scared of overstepping their bounds (the Walkers made it abundantly clear of what they see the Letty and Chase to be), they save the children. They call Buggy, Vivi's Mother but never even get Letty's clothes back.

The back of the book advertises that it is a mixture of sad and funny stories. The book, to me, was never really funny. I thought it was interesting and the writing is superb. I couldn't put it down. It was an easy read, and when the stories became darker, it was a like a car crash; you couldn't look away. I couldn't put it down.

Though I largely mention Siddalee, I like the rotating perspective of the people in different stories. I am always interested when characters look at each other: it's much harder for the writer, but if they pull it off, it's very rewarding. Rebecca Wells does this very well.

I'm glad I lucked into reading the prequel. I would like to read Ya Ya Sisterhood and watch the movie again to do another "Which is Better?" post.

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