Don’t let yourself be seen in a truck in town.Men and buses are two things you should never chase.
Men are like pots on the stove. Keep the burners going- more pots, more pots.
These are among the many rules of etiquette and life lessons for the Camellias, one of the oldest debutant societies in Charleston. One does not join the Camellias. One is born into the Camellias. And with that inherited membership comes a group of girls with whom you learn to dance, learn to socialize, learn about boys, and remain friends with throughout your entire life. Or at the least, are expected to maintain friend-like attitudes and invite to all social functions and events.
This is Sarah’s world, which welcomes the reader to follow her from eighth-grade Cotillion dance lessons to an adulthood defined by a mediocre job, drugs use, and obsessive relationship with an abusive boyfriend. It is the story of a fairy tale gone wrong, for Sarah, her Camellia friends, and even her mother. As young ladies they are taught the tools needed to find the ideal husband and have the perfect marriage. Yet, this is not the life any of them grow into.
The novel occasionally expands beyond Sarah’s perspective to look into the adulthood of her childhood friends, who did try to follow the rules of life they were smothered with as adolescents, and yet have lives plagued with the same frustrations as Sarah, despite her flagrant disregard to all childhood and Southern traditions. (Very poignant in this is the chapter written as a letter from one friend dying of cancer to her husband’s girlfriend that will take her place.)
Life is organic, a cycle, that in some way always ends where it began. For Sarah, this regeneration brings her back home to Charleston, where she sees that the life she once lived is just like she remembered it, and yet nothing like what she expected. I often define an entire book on my reaction to the ending. This one took me by such surprise that I found myself talking aloud to it- What? No way! Oh my god!
Much more of this novel is spent on Sarah, and her friends, adult years in New York City. So, don’t be dissuaded by descriptions of the genteel South. This is a good find for readers that like slice-of-life or fiction-memoirs. It is also appealing for the psychological conflict of women making decision that are odds with their belief systems, and the way in which women will redefine themselves in desperation for love. All people introduced to the reader are rich, some in wealth, but all in depth of character. Although Sarah will find resolution in the novel’s end, the reader will question what happened to this friend, to that relationship. Characters you can connect with at this level makes for a good read.