I love southern literature with strong women characters, a bit of the paranormal, and a happy—or at least mostly happy— ending. Throw in wisdom, a little humor, eccentric characters, redemption, and a strong sense of place, and I’m hooked.
Temple Secrets, by Susan Gabriel hooked me and reeled me in. I hated to see the book end. Temple Secrets has a lot of what I like to find in a book.
I like a book with a strong opening paragraph, and this one has it: “Iris
Temple has been threatening to die for three decades, and most of the people in
Savannah who know her want her to get on with it. Queenie looks up from the
crime novel she’s hidden within the pages of Southern Living magazine and takes
in the figure of her half-sister, Iris Templeton, across the sunroom.
Everything about Iris speaks of privilege: the posture, the clothes, the
understated jewels. Not to mention a level of entitlement that makes Queenie’s
head ache. An exasperated moan slips from her mouth before she can catch it.”
tells us about the two main characters and the relationship between them. It
tells us where they are. The details made me want to read more. Why did so many
want Iris to die?
I like a book with a strong sense of place, and Temple Secrets surely has it. My husband and I visited Savannah when we lived in Charleston during 1968-70 and took day trips when I wasn’t teaching/getting my MAT from The Citadel and he wasn’t working on Polaris subs at the shipyard. I can see Gabriel’s setting exactly. I can feel it, too, because there’s nothing like the heat and humidity in those cities.
I particularly like elderly women characters who have a “gift.” (Remember Aint Lulie in my self-published novel, ThemThat Go?) Old Sally, age one hundred when the book begins, communes with ghosts, is precognitive, and knows Gullah. The granddaughter of a Temple slave, she knows a few secrets, too. Old Sally’s daughter, Queenie is also a strong woman, who’s kept one secret for sixty-some years. For generations, Old Sally’s ancestors were the white Temples’ slaves. After emancipation, a few of the slaves’ descendants were employed as domestics by the Temples, and the Temple men took advantage of the situation.
But the ill-tempered Iris Temple, who has a delicate constitution and suffers from horrendous flatulence is up in her eighties and won’t last forever. She’s promised the family mansion to Queenie, but her son Edward Temple III, who rarely visits, wants it all. Iris’s daughter Rose, who’s missing a pinkie fingertip because Edward cut it off with a family sword when she was five, is estranged from her mother and has been living out west for the last twenty years and likely won’t inherit much, if anything. Rose writes to Queenie, but she and her mother don’t communicate. Meanwhile, Old Sally’s granddaughter Violet helps support her school-teacher husband and her two teenage daughters by keeping house and cooking for Iris.
But who’ll get the book of Temple secrets that’s kept in a safe deposit box. Iris uses the information supposedly contained therein to threaten Savannah’s society and bend them to her will. And therein lies the complication—someone is leaking these secrets to the newspaper. Soon threats are posted to the Temples on the wrought iron fence, a brick is heaved through a window, anonymous phone calls disrupt the household, etc. But I won’t give away any more of the plot. Suffice to say that it has some interesting twists and a few secrets revealed.
I like books in which characters share their philosophies or their wisdom—especially when their thoughts impart a universal truth. Since I’m elderly, I could identify with this passage about Old Sally: “That’s
what it’s like to get this old, she thinks. You look up one day and your whole
life has rushed past so fast you barely caught a glimpse of what’s what’s
passing. Then before you know it, you’re at the end of your life and wondering
how you got there.”
I liked this book so much that before I knew it, I was at the end. And I wondered how I’d gotten there so fast.
Labels: book reviews, books, reading, Southern lit