My first thought on finishing this novel was, "I've just read an amazing book." You think it's going to be a wacky spoof but then, out of the blue, come moments of insight into life, love, and aging, and then a poignant moment that takes your breath away. It's a book about aging and death, the power of the past over our lives, and the problem of possessions that own us. But it is also rich with the themes of family, mother/daughter relationships, race relations, small-town life, and much more.
Faith Bass Darling's garage sale frames the story. On the last day of the millennium, in the early morning hours, Faith hears a voice tell her to sell all her possessions because this will be her last day on earth. She hasn't spoken to God in twenty years, since the death of her son and her husband. That.s when she closed up her family mansion with its amazing antique treasures, became a recluse guarding her possessions, and clung to her grief.
Obeying the voice, she hires teenagers to haul antique after antique out on the lawn—Tiffany lamps, many of them, go for a quarter; a Chippendale armoire for twenty dollars; a Queen Anne table with cabriole-paw legs and a roll-top desk for the same amount. Faith Darling gives away the things she has treasured her entire life for pennies, causing an uproar in the tiny town of Bass, Texas.
Her daughter's best high-school friend, Bobbie Blankenship, now an antique dealer, tries to talk Faith into closing down the sale. So does Deputy John Jasper Johnson, injured in the accident that killed Faith's son. So, tentatively, does Father George A. Fallow, the elderly Episcopalian priest. But Faith is adamant: "A deal is a deal." Bobbie calls Claudia Jean, Faith's long-estranged daughter, who arrives from Austin and is completely overwhelmed to find her mother selling the things Claudia Jean thought she never wanted to see again.
Faith's doctor has told her she's "sundowning," a disorientation that often occurs in dementia patients around sunset. Faith, in truth is suffering from Alzheimer's in the sunset of her life, so sundowning happens all day. She has her "moments" which transport her back in time to other places, other situations. She sees people long dead; she relives scenes long since past. When Claudia Jean arrives, Faith doesn't believe she's real. After all, hasn't she just seen Claudia Jean's brother, dead these twenty years?
This account of the garage sale is a potent exploration of the power of the past over our lives. Faith, descendant of the town's founder and generations that followed him, has always treasured her heritage, her mansion, and her antiques, valuing them above the people in her life. Claudia Jean, on the other hand, ran away, believing she never wanted to see the mansion and its treasures again. But when she returns she is surprised at the hold the past has on her. The story speaks equally to the power possessions have over us. Her antiques have possessed Faith until this last day of her life, and when Claudia Jean thought she had shed herself of them, she finds she hadn't.
John Jasper has his own memories to exorcise: memories of the day his best friend, Mike Darling, died, the day that he, John Jasper, lost all chance of becoming a national football hero. Instead, he became just another black kid from across the tracks who would never again walk without a limp, filled with memories of the hatred he still carries for ClaudeDamnDarling, Mike's father. All these threads untangle slowly throughout the novel, teasing readers, making us wait for the real story of Claude, the real story of what happened the day Mike Bass and its residents, especially Claudia Jean and John Jasper.
I've always believed that a good book should leave the reader in a different place than when he or she began it. This one surely does that.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Lynda Rutledge is a fifth-generation Texan and a journalist who has won awards for her fiction. Having lived all over the world, she and her husband now live in Austin. This is her first novel. Visit her website.
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