Today I finished reading the aptly titled Dogwood Blues, by Brenda Sutton Rose. I received an invitation from Brenda to read and review her book and although I never take requests, her invitation included the magic words: southern fiction.
As most people know, I am a long-standing fan of southern fiction and southern writers. Southern writers seem to have storytelling in their blood. So I agreed to the request.
When I began reading, I immediately thought of Steel Magnolias as the character Nell could have passed for Weezer’s long lost cousin. One of the first scenes happened in Lottie’s beauty parlor, also reminiscent to Truvey’s salon in the same movie. I was pleasantly surprised when the similarities ended there.
The story followed several main characters, some quirky and others a bit less believable, but their differences made up the backbone of a typical small town in the south.
Although I didn’t feel there was much of a plot consisting of goals, obstacles and conflicts, there was an enjoyable story told between present day and flashbacks. There were a few epiphanies, a few lessons learned and a humbling experience or two, enough diversity to keep me reading. I thought the letters to the editor were a nice touch lending to the small town feel.
The one relationship I thought struggled a bit was the one between Boone and Jasmine. It wasn’t the relationship as much as their dialogue. I understand they are newlyweds, but even at that, often it was too sugary to be realistic.
Another dialogue issue I found was unnatural speech. I didn’t find it through the entire read, only in a few areas (Example: Page 131, Damon tells Kevin detail for detail what happened at their sophomore football game when in real life, there would be no need to go through that kind of detailed account with someone who was also there at the time.)
Another one can be found on page 99… One of the construction workers is telling Trampus that Dogwood isn’t like New York, or Chicago, or Boston… and how they don’t have smog or subways or homeless folks or fast-talking folks. Generally speaking, men are less verbal than women. That paragraph sounded more ‘speechlike’ than normal, believable dialogue. It wasn’t a huge problem with the read, just random scatterings here and there.
Setting and descriptions were good, enough, but not too much. There were several phrases that were original and gave the writing poetic flow (Example: …as clients arrived and departed like carrier pigeons delivering gossip.) Rose ties up the loose ends before the last page leaving the reader satisfied.
There were a few minor mistakes; one that stood out was—in modern fiction, when one speaker continues speaking from one paragraph into the next without pause, quotation marks are not used at the end of the first paragraph. This allows the reader to instinctively know that the speaker hasn’t changed even though the paragraph has. I came across a couple of instances where the quotation marks were used, even though the same person was speaking, causing me to break flow to double-check my bearings (One example, page 105, between paragraphs 6 and 7) Minor, but something to keep in mind when writing her next book and I do hope there will be a next book.
I gave the book 4-stars because I did enjoy it and I felt the author succeeded in breathing life into a fictional small town and gave most of her characters a real feel even if they weren’t exactly in ‘all is lost’ situations. Not for the reader looking for complex plots or thought-provoking issues, but if it’s a light contemporary read you’re looking for, it won’t disappoint.