Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: 'Beyond the Pale' by C. Michelle McCarty

C. Michelle McCarty lives in Texas, always has, and knows the twang of the accent well - as well as the style of living that comes only from being IN a place for so many years. Though she was born with a love of writing (`I wrote asinine poems and short stories'), events in her life such as school, marriage, childbirth, and divorce forced her to take jobs that actually paid simply to pay her way, jobs such as owning her own hair salon and employment agency to writing ad copy and editing for an online newspaper. Now, Michelle has finally settled into writing full time. THE JEWEL BOX was her debut novel, and quite a testy tale covering a period from the wild and uncontrollable 1960s to the early 2000s. But McCarty is in control all the way. It is of interest to read Michelle's thoughts she places in her bio: `Socially awkward, Michelle daydreams about imaginary places filled with ordinary and extraordinary characters who offer intimate details of their humorous, eccentric, romantic, dramatic, and sometimes mundane lives. She writes to learn moral lessons by placing characters in a variety of situations, which in turn offers soul searching and sometimes personal resolutions. Michelle believes flawed characters reveal that everyone, no matter how imperfect or seemingly insignificant, offers something special in pretend worlds as well as in real life.' Those thought are quite pertinent to this her second major novel, BEYOND THE PALE.

Michelle retains that sense of poignant realism in this book - a study of family dysfunction, mother daughter broken relationship, the legalities of inheritance, and the relationships within a small town and odd families. Despite the fact that she deals with death, trauma, misplaced love - she does this all with that wry humor that makes her writing so cogent. Even opening her story with the funeral of our lead character Abbie's mother: `No, it's not the Victorian age--just Y2K in small town Georgia where my mother's family owns everything associated with death from hospitals to morgues.' Her mother was socialite Phoebe Stevens and disowned the then pregnant teenager Abbie at age 17 when Abbie was forced to move to Artesia, Maryland to live in a trailer park a riches to rags move as Phoebe was wealthy and blamed Abbie for her father's demise.

But the plot summary tells it better: `At odds with her mother long before her father's fatal automobile accident left them blaming each other, pregnant teen Abbie barely flinches when her mother hands her a fistful of cash to leave town forever. From small town, Georgia mansion to Maryland mobile home, Abbie embraces unusual trailer park people who help keep her mind off an old locker left by her dad yet confiscated by her mother. When her mother dies in 2000, will guarded secrets from her past elate or devastate Abbie and others?'

With a fine sense of plot development colored with language appropriate to the areas Michelle once again proves that she can recreate eras and regions with the best of them. A solid little bit of Americana, this. Grady Harp, August 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.