Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen ~ Susan Gregg Gilmore
Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (CA)
A small town somewhere is a small town anywhere; this much, Catherine Grace Cline of Ringgold, Georgia, can tell you. The eldest daughter of the town’s pulpit-leading patriarchy, Catherine Grace knows, and makes perfectly clear to anyone who will listen, that she is destined for greater things than the provincial, tomato growing southern town where she was born and raised.
The story follows Catherine through a tumultuous but lonely adolescence, flanked by her younger sister, Martha Anne, and a vibrant, middle-aged wild woman cum teenage confidant, Gloria Jean Graves. She all but sells her soul to hitch a ride into the The Big Peach, Atlanta, to work at the city’s shopping district. Before she can so much as contemplate roots in town, however, tragedy joins her in the metropolis and she is summoned home for a shift in perspective far greater than she hoped to gain from city life.
This is not my typical fare but I was seduced by the proximity of the story to my current location and was pleasantly surprised. A simple, sweet and honest read, it could be set at any time, any place and carry the same message of introspective discovery. Knowledge of the South East is not imperative to enjoying the book, although it does help. As a northern transplant to Atlanta, I am a fence sitter in terms of understanding southern catch phrases and colloquialisms but found many of the understated regional references subtly hilarious.
The characters are comfortably and loosely sketched, yet not so transparent that the story loses focus. The overarching theme builds on an age-old conflict, one between pastoral home and grand away, to which Gilmore gives small town charm and big city spunk. Her story is at once a deep criticism of and a love letter to small town life.