Book info

Charms For The Easy Life (2005)

Charms for the Easy Life (2005)
Author
Rating
4.01 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
0060760257 (ISBN13: 9780060760250)
languge
English
publisher
harper perennial
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Charms For The Easy Life (2005)
Charms For The Easy Life (2005)

About book: "I have read two books a week for thirty years. I am satisfied that I know everything." So says Charlie Kate Birch, and she's not shy about sharing her knowledge, whether you want to hear it or not. Charlie Kate is an early-1900s North Carolina midwife, herbalist, and self-styled doctor (with no official credentials). She's feisty, outspoken, and somewhat manipulative, but also very civic-minded and generous. You can't help liking her, even if she is a little too full of herself. Her daughter Sophia and granddaughter Margaret live in her orbit and are mostly grateful for the direction she gives their lives as a threesome. Kay Gibbons' writing is highly polished and carefully restrained--a quality I'm coming to appreciate more and more for its rarity. She also has a sly gift for humor that sneaks up on you. One of the characters will make a seemingly dry observation, but if you circle back and read it again, you catch the subtlety and burst out laughing. For example, when her mother Sophia asks God for help in a hurry, Margaret notes: "He no doubt knocked Himself out getting to her, as she was such a trophy among his creations."This is a quaint, charming, and at times hilarious story. I really liked the portrayal of these three highly intelligent, book-loving Southern women. They learn from their mistakes and don't take any guff from men. ***If you want your own easy-life charm, you'll need to find the hind foot of a white graveyard rabbit caught at midnight, under the full moon, by a cross-eyed Negro woman who has been married seven times.***

Charms for the Easy Life is a mesmerizing fictional biography/autobiography of three generations of women living unconventional lives in North Carolina against the backdrop of the World Wars. The book revolves around the life of the narrator's grandmother, a self-taught healer who appears to lead a bit of a charmed life. Her life is not "charmed" in any sort of mystical sense, it's more like she is so self-possessed that a comparatively uncertain world bends itself to her will.I enjoyed the glimpses of history that are presented in the book - the folklore, competition for rations, and descriptions of trends in fashion and culture. (I also enjoyed the references to places that I have spent time in.) The only reason I'm not giving this book five stars it that it seems to be more of a collection of very rich character studies than a novel. There is a plot, but the book is more about how the characters react to events than the events themselves. The rest of the world fades into the background and the narration focuses with intense clarity on the emotional waves that the characters generate and reflect back into the world. Also, the grandmother's skill at getting her way goes a bit beyond plausibility and sets her up as a bit of a fantastical character - a sort of early 20th century southern feminist superhero. (Albeit a very, very cool one!)
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Reviews
Jen
This novel is written uniquely. It's almost like a long narrative or memoir, with little dialogue. I found the story of the three Women very interesting. I admired their strength and how they had each other, despite difficult trials along the way. This book could have kept going for me, I of course wanted more of an ending or epilogue. I loved the setting of the south and the time period of the early 20th century. This will be our May 2013 book club pick. I can't wait it see the movie version and plan on buying a copy of this book to own. Another fun discovery!
Annette
Here are the things that I liked about the book:1) The setting - N. Carolina 1900-19462) The strong female characters - Charlie Kate, her daughter, Sophia, and grandaughter, Margaret3) romance - this wasn't the main focus of the book, the men definitely take a backseat in this novel, but there is a little romance and (thank goodness) it's not sappy :)4) the author's writing style - I wasn't sure if I liked it at first, but once I got into it I liked it.There are only a couple of little nit-picky things that I didn't like about it. There is a section of about 50 pages of the book where there are a lot of deaths and suicides that just seemed to be a little more than was necessary or realistic. The other thing that was unrealistic was the grandmother, Charlie Kate, she never made a mistake. I think I would've liked her more if the author had given her a couple of weaknesses.
Rachel Crooks
This book swept me into its fabric from the first page, mainly because the main character, Charlie Kate, is so unconventional and the stories of her turn-of-the-century life in the South are so shockingly humorous, tragic and honest. We all hope to know someone (or be someone) a little like Charlie Kate: always knowing exactly what to do in any situation, dauntlessly moving forward and dictating the way our world will be. Like a magnet, her character attracts people to her, and whether she is truly right or wrong in her unlicensed medical practices, she generally always prospers. The one inconsistency I find is that the narrator (Charlie Kate's granddaughter) spends the entire novel praising and admiring her grandmother's courage, strong will and independence, and in the end decides her own future merely by asking Charlie Kate's opinion and meekly following through on it. While Charlie Kate's persona is highly developed, her daughter and granddaughter are comparatively shadowy figures, revolving as satellites to the greater personality. It was a very enjoyable read, and as comforting as sitting in the kitchen while a storyteller spins colorful tales, but I ended wondering what the overall point was.
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