Bound South, by Susan Rebecca White

I’ve been picking up a lot of different books in the “women’s fiction” category lately (laying aside for the moment any quibbles I may have with that label), largely because that’s the label under which I’m currently trying to get published.  The happy upside of trolling through the fiction shelves looking for contemporary stories by women, scanning the Acknowledgements page to find out who their agents are, is that sometimes you stumble upon some really great writers with really great books. This is how I found Susan Rebecca White, and after reading  Bound South I will definitely be looking out for more books by her.

I guess it’s just coincidence that several of the novels I’ve read recently are told from the perspective of three different women, with alternating points of view.  Bound South follows this pattern, telling the story of Louise Parker, her daughter Caroline, and Missy Meadows, daughter of Louise’s cleaning lady, as their lives unfold in Atlanta and beyond over a ten-year period.

This is a novel with a strong sense of place, clearly rooted in Atlanta with characters who, in their various ways, all grapple with the culture and heritage of the Southern United States.  Louise, who may be the main character, is the most bound by the expectations of “Southern womanhood,” to the degree that she is an almost annoyingly passive character for much of the book. One of the rewards of reading a book that stretches over a decade is that the reader gets to see Louise emerge in midlife into her own woman, and the process is thoroughly enjoyable.

Meanwhile, Louise’s daughter Caroline, the beautiful rebel who wants to be an actress, is determined to blaze her own trail, yet her life takes her in some very unexpected directions.  And Missy, the smart, hard-working, extremely devout daughter of Louise’s cleaning lady Faye, has her own life plans derailed by the most predictable of roadblocks — an unplanned pregnancy. The interwoven relationships between Missy’s family and the Parkers provide the novel with much of its depth and complexity as they provide plenty of room to reflect on class differences and how social class affects everything from our ambitions to our religious faith.

The use of three different narrators and the lengthy time-span of the story occasionally made Bound South feel more like a collection of linked short stories than a novel — I found myself getting engrossed in one character’s story, then pulled away from that at chapter’s end to another character’s point of view, a year or two later, still wanting resolution on the last story. To White’s credit, she does pull together all the plot strands, and we are rarely left wondering “Whatever happened to …?”  I was, however, sometimes left wanting more of a particular character or storyline.

Leaving a reader wanting more is not a bad thing, and the fact that I got so engaged with these characters is a tribute to White’s skill.  I really enjoyed Bound South and will be reading her next book.

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