Thursday, July 11, 2013

REVIEW of COLD SASSY TREE by OLIVE ANN BURNS

COLD SASSY TREE
Olive Ann Burns
Mariner Books
Reprint published 2007

On July 5, 1906, scandal breaks in the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, when the proprietor of the general store, E. Rucker Blakeslee, elopes with Miss Love Simpson. He is barely three weeks a widower, and she is only half his age and a Yankee to boot. As their marriage inspires a whirlwind of local gossip, fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy suddenly finds himself eyewitness to a family scandal, and that’s where his adventures begin.

Cold Sassy Tree is the undeniably entertaining and extraordinarily moving account of small-town Southern life in a bygone era. Brimming with characters who are wise and loony, unimpeachably pious and deliciously irreverent, Olive Ann Burns’s classic bestseller is a timeless, funny, and resplendent treasure.

Even though I didn’t grow up in a town like Cold Sassy, Georgia, I felt nostalgic for the place as I read this book.  And after I finished reading this novel, I missed Miss Love Simpson, Grandpa Blakeslee, Will Tweedy, and Aunt Loma (well, okay, not Aunt Loma).

That’s the genius in this book: characterization.  In developing likeable and lifelike characters, Olive Ann Burns rivals Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott.  Each character has a texture and personality so real and different from the other characters that they remain impressed on our minds long after the details of the narrative fall away from our brains.

The plot itself takes a while to move at the beginning, and rightfully so, because Burns spends her energy painting her characters.  Without the vivid characters, we wouldn’t really care what happens to them.  Unlike modern action novels (Clancy and the like), the action doesn’t drive the reader to turn the page.  You turn a page of Cold Sassy Tree because you want to know how Miss Love Simpson will respond to Grandpa Blakeslee’s brazen proposal.  You want to know how Aunt Loma’s Christmas play will turn out.


Olive Ann Burns passed away while writing the sequel to Cold Sassy Tree.  Although the sequel is now finished (by someone else, obviously) and published, the original stands alone.  And after you turn the last page of Cold Sassy Tree, you’ll probably, like me, wish that Burns had begun writing earlier in her life and painted a few more characters.

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