Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton

I read this book over the weekend for one of my book clubs, which meets next Tuesday. In fact, this is more than just a book club selection. It's actually a One Book, One Community book for my area. They have a ton of really great things planned during October around the book. The author will appear at several different events, and he'll also give a writing workshop at the community college that I work for -- free! All I can say is if you haven't ever read anything by Clyde Edgerton, don't wait any longer. He's a North Carolina author and is always more than happy to participate in events around the state. His brand of Southern Lit. is a little lighter than that of Faulkner or O'Connor, but no less worthy. It's full of many of the mandatory themes for Southern Lit. -- religion, food, family, and people down on their luck. What's missing from this book that is always prevalent in books by more famous Southern writers is the misery. As much as I like Faulkner, O'Connor, and Capote (just to name a few), you don't usually come away from their books with a light heart. I actually finished Walking Across Egypt with a smile on my face. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud more than once while reading this book.

Like many of Edgerton's books, this one is set in the fictional Listre, North Carolina. The main character is Mattie Rigsbee who is a 78-year old, feisty widow that loves nothing more than to feed everyone she meets. This character reminds me so much of my own grandmother who is now 95 years old and in a nursing home. My grandmother, like Mattie Rigsbee, made it her mission in life to feed anyone who came to her house. I don't mean just a sandwich, mind you. I mean a full course meal, which might include fried chicken, meatloaf (she always had more than one main course), cabbage, fried okra, fried squash, sliced tomatoes, rice, gravy, homemade biscuits, green beans, corn and several different desserts. My grandma is famous for her chocolate pie and egg custard pie. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

In between cooking and taking care of her home, Mattie is busy with her church and family. She has two grown children, but she's still waiting on grandchildren. Mattie takes every opportunity she's presented to remind her children that she isn't getting any younger and neither are they. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she is introduced to Wesley, a young man in the juvenile detention center nearby. Taking her scripture seriously, she decides to "do unto the least of these." She visits Wesley and takes him some of her famous homemade poundcake and a mason jar of sweet tea. Wesley is rough around the edges but can't get this kindness out of his mind.

I won't go into any more detail, but this is a "feel good" story that is at turns both heartwarming and hilarious. The book was made into a movie, which stays pretty close to the original. It was good, but as usual I prefer the book. If you've read the book, leave me a comment telling me your favorite scene. I bet I know what it is!


Iliana said...

Oh, I've never tried anything by this author. Sounds like I'm missing out. I'm going to add this one to my list!

Lisa said...

iliana, another good one to try by Edgerton is Raney. It's the story of the first year of marriage of a young couple. It has a lot of quirky, lovable characters.

Andrea said...

I will have to check this out! I have never heard of Edgerton, but I'm always interested to hear about NC authors. Thanks for letting me know!

Lisa said...

andrea, his work is very funny. I, too love to discover North Carolina authors.