Wow, just finished “Opal,” and am genuinely impressed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except I figured it would be entertaining . Years ago I read “Mama Makes Up Her Mind,” by Bailey White, plus all of her other humorous books about quirky Southern characters; and I thought that was where you were headed as I delightfully dove into the first few stories: and then—I discovered to my great fascination that you were plying deeper waters and weren’t afraid to bring out all of those demons and dilemmas and sordid secrets that we Southerners hide beneath a veneer of manners and customs, rituals and politeness, good food and religion, and a baffling protocol that has strained for centuries to keep everything in its place, under a semblance of order.
Southern culture is baffling to outsiders, and sometimes even to me, a direct descendant of a Confederate soldier. In this book you treat your characters with respect, but you make them confront the monsters that hide behind the facade of orderly daily life, even if they have to do it reluctantly. You understand these people, and you have affection for them, but you are on a mission to make them lift the veil of pretense that hides conflict and finally confront their inability to resolve their differences with the real world (even if you have to lock them overnight in a storm cellar).
I see the influences of other Southern writers, such as Harper Lee, Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and, of course, there ARE some Bailey White-type moments in these stories, but the writer I am most reminded of is E. Annie Proulx. In her novel “The Shipping News,” she takes a cast of quirky characters and forces each of them to confront their worst fears, to face their personal phobias; and each one of them successfully does so. In the end they come out as stronger, better, and happier people.
Your characters often go through something similar, and the way they rise to the occasion offers a blueprint for all of us, whether we be introvert or extrovert, Southern or normal.
Thank you, Diane, for these stories which not only excel as stand-aloneness, but when woven into the complete tapestry of a book, represent a significant contribution to the literary world.