Saturday, April 13, 2013

Some Wildflower in My Heart

     It can be a discouraging thing to read "professional" book reviews and wish that your assessment of someone else's novel could be fortunate enough as to show up on the beginning page of that novel, or think how inferior your assessment is compared to the review you already read. And since I have enormous trouble working up introductions to my book reviews, I guess this paragraph serves as a long enough one.
     I've only read one other of Jamie Langston Turner's novels--Winter Birds--and found it very original and quite interesting. Some Wildflower in My Heart disappointed me in that it was extremely akin to Winter Birds (though her books are "loosely conceived as a series"), but it still managed to hold most of my interest.
     Margaret Bryce Tuttle is a fifty-year-old lunchroom supervisor in Filbert, South Carolina. Sexually abused by her grandfather as a teenager, she has grown up hateful of God and people. Her idiosyncratic speaking style--no contractions, almost as though narrating Pride and Prejudice--and her calm, nearly wordless coldness combine for a thoroughly heartless character which, in my opinion, Langston Turner did very well in crafting. But I can't eat my Easter eggs all at once. The plot follows the line of Margaret's uninterrupted, friendless lifestyle until Birdie Freeman--a plain fifty-two-year-old woman with "protruding" teeth--enters her life.
     The plot itself is simple, yet profound and realistic. Unlike The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, it contains no dramatic account of the fight between good and evil, showing instead that elaborate plots don't have to be in a story to make it interesting. Written in first person, while Margaret is writing her own first draft of the story, it does have the tendency to get a little boring. In particular, a scene somewhere in the middle of the book with an extremely talkative character is over-lengthened. The book's simplicity, Margaret's writing, and Jamie Langston Turner's writing, all grated on my nerves from time to time, failing to truly captivate me. 
     Margaret, as a character, is well-done: probably the most so in the book. Strangely, my mind's eye modeled her as my sister Hallie, even though the book described Margaret as a brunette with curly hair (and fifty years old!). One thing I have against Langston Turner is that she didn't portray Margaret as a fifty-year-old, but as an almost ageless woman. She described her as pretty, but not much else. Apparently Margaret isn't very interested in her appearance. 
     The secondary character to the story, Birdie Freeman (whom Margaret argues is actually the main character), who is incredibly good ("That is just what she ought to be," I hear Marilla saying), is too good for me, a fact I consider ironic because of the following words of Margaret, in Chapter 23, "A Watered Garden":
     I had always despised the character of Melanie Wilkes in the novel Gone With the Wind, for I felt that she was a goody-goody without the affectation that makes such a character comical. She was a woman devoid of faults, and herein lay her flaw as a fictional character. Her portrayal on screen by the actress Olivia de Havilland, however, displeased me less, for it brought a measure of realism to the flat depiction upon the printed page, and I found myself wishing that such a woman could exist, though I knew it to be impossible. . . .
     When Birdie Freeman had first appeared in the lunchroom of Emma Weldy Elementary School in August, I had begun to observe her closely, guardedly, for I knew that, given enough time, whatever appeared to be pure would prove itself an alloy. By December, however, the imperfections that I had uncovered were few: a childlike gullibility and naivete resulting in broad misconceptions about the fundamental nature of life itself; the tendency at times to misinterpret even the plainest and most direct language; an irritating habit of referring to Mickey [her husband] at every turn; a nature marked by such extreme deference to others that she ingloriously offered herself, to use a slang term, as a "doormat"; and, of course, her physical abnormalities.
     Birdie doesn't come across to me as flat now as she did when I began the book, but she seems rather . . . untouchable. Not relatable. (Supposedly "relatable" is not a word.) This feeling of mine is somewhat allayed with the ending of the book, however.
     The Christian message in this novel is . . . good, to use a very weak adjective. Anger at God is a common place to which authors resort in order to have some Christianity about their book. Thankfully, Langston Turner doesn't overdo or underdo the message, keeping it safely though subtly the most important point of the story.
     Overall, Some Wildflower in My Heart was a pleasant experience, and probably worth a second read on one of those rainy days when you really have nothing else to do. Surprisingly, though I can offer criticism on it, I wouldn't see it much changed--except, maybe, I would have had Turner give us more information on the past of Birdie Freeman. Past lives of people are central to this story: a good thing, because it keeps readers on their toes where Margaret's odd style of speech might not.
     Oh, I forgot to mention: Jamie Langston Turner always has the funnest titles for her chapters. She's very creative that way.
     I do recommend this book, but I would say that if you'd like to check out Jamie Langston Turner, start with Winter Birds. I found that to be more worthwhile than this one.

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