Monday, September 17, 2018

The Book of Polly -- A Review

Okay, y'all! I gotta write this review because I think the book is overdue at the library and a friend of mine loaned it to me so I'm sorta on her dime.

It's not that it took me so long to read the book. It reads very fast. In fact, I finished it within three days. Not because I'm a fast reader. It's just that I couldn't put it down.

Officially, it's identified as a coming of age story. It's from Willow's point of view and Willow is Polly's very late-in-life daughter. Willow's father died before she was born. Her siblings are grown and gone -- her sister converted and married to a self-righteous, evangelical Christian and her alcoholic brother has left the family and the country. Both disappointments to Polly and sorely missed by her. Polly is also estranged from her family, friends, and even her hometown across the state line in Louisiana. Willow has no one other than her mother.

This story is set in a small town in East Texas, so it's not so surprising that Willow tells a tall tale or two in defense of her mother. Who, it's true, in no way, shape, or form fits the standard mold for mothers. Polly's too old. She's too outspoken. She hasn't any friends. Doesn't get along with the neighbors, goes to Willow's school armed with a falcon on her shoulder. (Yes, a real falcon.) Hates her neighbors and squirrels. And they hate her right back. Well, the neighbors do.

Truth be told, with neighbors like that, I didn't blame her one little bit. But then, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with Polly as a neighbor either. She's altogether too fond of firing off her shotgun and who knew she was firing blanks?

Polly never talks about Willow's dead father or why she herself will never go back to her hometown. So Willow is obsessed with her mother's history.

She is also obsessed with her mother's age. And her smoking. She's terrified Polly will get cancer and die, then Willow will be all alone in the world.
     "Polly never used the word cancer. It was as if invoking it would be an invitation for it
      to slide under our door and slink inside her cigarettes. So she said Bear. People had
      lung Bear, stomach Bear, skin Bear, or worst of all (and she said this in a whisper)
      hinder Bear -- colon cancer. 'My uncle had the hinder Bear,' she said delicately. 'He
      shrank down to ninety pounds, poor fellow. But they cut it out of him and he was okay
      for a few years. 'til he had a heart attack while leaning over a rain barrel and drowned.'"

Kathy Hepinstall's descriptions of people! The way they look.
     "Darcie Burrell -- a reed-thin woman with a permanently conflicted expression, as though,
      deep inside her, someone was trying to bathe a cat."

The ways people can be mean like when Willow's sister's step-son declares that Polly is going to hell, Willow retorts,
     "'How could she go to hell, she's a Christian? She goes to church.'
      He nodded. 'A Methodist church. My dad says she might as well go to a nightclub.'"

Having, myself, been raised in the Methodist church in several small Oklahoma towns, I laughed out loud.

You know it's a good book when it has characters you'd recognize on the street. And if it can make you laugh and cry. And when you finish it, you're satisfied. And you hope that Kathy Hepinstall is not like Harper Lee who had only one book published, because The Book of Polly is so good, you want more.

And there are more. Check at your local library.