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A Mother’s Love

Southern fiction about a Louisiana woman with secrets and her daughter’s ruthless will to find answers

Willow Havens is the 10-year old daughter of Polly, a woman who fell pregnant for the last time in her late 50s just before the death of her husband. Despite her advanced maternal age, Polly isn’t a worn out mother just trying to raise her daughter to independence — she’s a petulant, margarita-swilling Walgreens employee who will take on anyone that questions the veracity of her daughter’s larger-than-life storytelling.

In one of the first scenes in “The Book of Polly,” Polly (age 68 at the time) procures a hunting falcon to perch on her shoulder as she attends a meeting with Willow’s elementary school counselor. The purpose of that particular spectacle is to protect Willow’s reputation as an honest girl.
It’s against this backdrop that the reader learns Willow has a desperate need to uncover the secrets of her mother’s life as a young woman in Bethel, Louisiana.

The book is at once hilarious and deeply emotional with the most apt literary comparisons being “Terms of Endearment” and “Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt.” This is Kathy Hepinstall’s seventh novel and she took time to answer a few questions about this wildly popular book for Louisiana Life readers.
 

Q: Why focus on the secrets mothers keep from their children? Do you think children have a right to know the secrets of their mother’s heart?  
A: I’m just fascinated by secrets. I don’t think children have a right to know all their mother’s secrets, but it’s natural for them to try to investigate. Polly is a mysterious woman and Willow seems naturally born to spying and subterfuge. Willow already is sensing her limitations — she can’t keep her mother from growing old or getting sick — so this desire to uncover information might be some kind of seeking of the powers that we, as adults, know we don’t possess. Or, Willow is just a snoop.
 
Q: The matter of Christian faith comes up quite a bit in this book. You illustrated the tension between different “brands” of Christianity so well. Do you think this is an issue that is isolated to the South?
A: No, I think that each Christian has their own version of Christianity, and it can make for a lot of contrast between family members. I have a cousin, self-styled preacher, that tried to raise a dead man. He’d been dead five days, and already embalmed.
 
Q: What inspired you to write about a woman who had a late-in-life, surprise child? That’s a very specific character sketch.  
A: Looking back, I think it’s because I wanted to write a character based on my mother, Polly, who is an elderly woman. So any child of hers would have to have come about from a late-life birth. Once the character Polly was created, though, I found the delightful side effects — the fact that she, a cantankerous, old-fashioned Southern gardener of a certain age, existed in a neighborhood filled with young moms driving hybrids and going to spin class. Mothers with a distinctly different attitude about child-raising and life in general. I think the contrast really adds to the story.
 
Q: The word “perfect” comes up frequently in the book. But these characters are so imperfect — lying, murder, etc. Can you talk about what perfection means to you in relation to these characters and your readers who relate to these characters?  
A: People are continually disappointed by life and disappointed by their role in it. The character of Phoenix, though, seemed to feel that life was always up to snuff, at every single moment. His phrase of ‘perfectly perfect’ is actually something that the real Phoenix (my friend Dallas) says from time to time. I love the addition of the word ‘perfectly,’ as though the word ‘perfect’ needs a little boost. Things will only get ‘perfectly perfect’ for Willow when she accepts life on its own terms, and her place in it. As a writer, I love the imperfections of characters. Those tiny moments when they lose their patience, fail to fix a boat, love too hard or throw up a Snickers bar on a kitchen floor.

“The Book of Polly” By Kathy Hepinstall Pamela Dorman Books, $26

 


 

Dogs In Repose

Louisiana Life’s own photographer, Sara Essex’s, released a new book “Dog Décor: Canines Living Large.

Within the 84 full-color images, you’ll meet well-loved pooches against the scenery of their owners’ impeccably designed homes. There are few things more calming than curling up with a mug of tea and flipping through the pages of this book.

Each spread features the family dog’s backstory as well as detailed descriptions of the lush spaces in which they reside.

Dog Décor: Canines Living Large” By Sara Essex Bradley Glitterati Incorporated, $35

From Dog Décor: Canines Living Large by Sara Essex Bradley copyright © 2017, published by Glitterati Incorporated glitteratiIncorporated.com

 


 

For fans of S-town and Serial

In a rut?

Part true-crime story, part memoir, this book follows the journey of the author — a Harvard Law grad staunchly opposed to the death penalty — as she finds herself in her first summer internship at a New Orleans law firm working on the retrial of a death-row convicted murderer. Not only does she want Ricky Langley to die, but she begins to understand how her own past colors her view of the crime. With that, she explores how everyone involved in the retrial, from judge to jury foreman to Ricky’s own mother, views the crime through the lens of their own experience.

Therapy is expensive, but a relevant distraction in the form of a book can do just as much to get you over an emotional hurdle according to the authors of “The Novel Cure.” The charming 400-page index includes an alphabetical list of ailments including everything from abandonment to fear of dinner parties to feeling trapped by children to PMS to zestlessness and everything in between. Under each heading is a prescription for bibliotherapy (books to read) as well as the reasoning behind each suggestion.
The Fact of a Body
By Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Flatiron Books, $26.99
The Novel Cure
By Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
Penguin, $17

 

 

 

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