Dorothea Frank's new novel, "Lowcountry Summer," proves the old axiom, "One person's trash is another's treasure."
Frank, the queen of sassy Southern fiction, has legions of fans who cherish her books. "Lowcountry Summer" is my first glimpse at these pearls and perhaps not the best choice for a starter, since I found the book as irritating as that grain of sand stuck in the oyster shell.
The story concerns the Wimbley family, a dysfunctional group including the narrator, Caroline Wimbley Levine, who thinks truly ugly thoughts about her young nieces, her sister-in-law, her brother Trip, her boyfriends, the priest - almost everyone in the novel with the exception of Trip's girlfriend, Rusty, the good-hearted mistress who is trying to make life better with Trip and his four daughters.
That Caroline is mean-spirited and controlling bothers her nieces, and, as teenagers, they respond accordingly. This makes for what tension is found in the novel.
Of course, a Southern novel must tell a story about how great-great-grandmother cowed the Yankees off the plantation - check. It must have a wise African-American woman who works as servant/friend of the narrator - check. The family has to be filled with people who really need to be committed to some sort of institution - check. There should be as much sweet tea, grits, sweet potato pie and hard liquor as can be squeezed into the pages - check. And the main character must think of sex with just about every man in visual or mental range - check.
I do believe Frank hits every operatic note in this book, which drips with Spanish moss and "lawsamercies!" If such antics strike you as entertaining, then, by all means, this is the book for you. However, if you are looking for subtlety and good-hearted humor, you'll want to pass on this latest story set in South Carolina.
Anne Barnhill's novel, "The Queen's Whore," is due from St. Martin's Press in spring 2011.