Go Gentle by Rebecca Howard

“Gentle” is a description used by librarians for books that contain little objectionable material and are generally light, hopeful, and uplifting in tone.  Staples of this genre include Jan Karon’s Mitford Years series, Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia series, and Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  This category may encompass cozy mysteries, some historical fiction, inspirational or religious fiction and certain types of domestic fiction. 

Like all categories, “gentle” can be a little problematic.  What is objectionable to one reader may be perfectly benign to another. Gentle may also connote to some readers “literature light,” which is an unfair and limited assumption.  I can fall into this latter group at times to my detriment.  I recently finished a book that I may never have picked up except for the suggestion of my colleague and fellow Reading Addict blogger, Laura Raphael. 

The Supremes at Earls All-You-Can-Eat is a novel that based on the cover alone, I would probably pass by.  That would be too bad, as it is one of the funniest, warmest, most heartfelt novels I’ve read all year.  The Supremes (…) tells the story of three lifelong friends and their experiences of love, heartache, triumphs, and losses.  Barbara Jean, Clarisse, and Odette become known as the Supremes in the southern Indiana town where they grew up together, and the name sticks.  Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is the establishment where the three have been coming since the late 1960s and where they continue to convene every Sunday after church. 

Odette, the central character, is a firestorm of a woman--born in a Sycamore tree and therefore rumored to be fearless.   She is fierce, for certain, yet equally loyal and kind.  The novel begins with her awakening in the middle of the night to have a conversation with her dead mother—the first of many ghosts whom she will begin to see.

The novel jumps from present day to the late 1960s and shifts perspectives from Odette to Clarisse to Barbara Jean.  As a reader, we get the backstories that only closest confidantes would share and feel like we know each of these characters as we would our own best friends.  And while I would certainly classify this novel as hopeful, uplifting, and inspiring, it’s not devoid of difficult subjects—the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and its fallout, the loss of a child and a spouse, marriage difficulties, and life changing diagnoses are all parts of this novel.  Still, the overall tone is one of optimism, and life (including the messes we make and the losses we endure) is beautiful.

It’s one of those rare “sure bet” novels—one that I want to hand to almost everyone I know, because I’m just certain that they will love it.  So, I’m telling you (as Laura told me)—read this now before the inevitable movie is released. 

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