Summer is in full swing and what better way to relax after a sizzling day than with a book about the Deep South and family secrets and surprising discoveries. This is third in my series of book reviews; I hope that my recommendations inspire you to read these books. . . . .
“Red Clay and Roses” by S. K. Nicholls is an honest look into the joys and ruthless realities of life in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s. The novel predominantly delves straightforward into lust, rape, murder, criminal abortion, lies, adoption, denial, and love, and particularly how race and gender relations intermingled within those ruthless realities of life.
The author presents this story as roman à clef; that is, as a novel based on a real life overlapped with fiction. She skillfully wrote to give the reader an interesting, eyes-wide-open view into the foul side of human attitudes and behavior, mirrored with the sweeter side that life can bring. Not only does she present to the reader the ugliness of lust, rape, abortion, et al, she also lays out the misery of mental illness, financial chicanery, and the protracted goals for women’s rights and civil rights in general.
It is obvious that the author researched well, as not only were the historical events correct, but also were the everyday things of life: Hair styles, clothing, language, place names, popular singers, and product names, for example. She is meticulous in describing things, sometimes to the minute detail. The reader, if familiar with places in the South, will recognize such places as Rexall Drugs, Kay Bee Jewelers, the Chattahoochee River, and Merritt Pecan Company. Even the late Freddie Hubbard, an American jazz trumpeter, was spun into the story early on.
What also makes this novel real is the author’s expert use of medical terms and medicine in general. As she is in real life a registered nurse, her knowledge becomes an excellent asset to the descriptions of the characters’ experiences with hospitals and their nefarious involvements. She uses medical terms and medicine in such a way that the reader is at ease; the descriptions do not come across at all as dry nursing class lectures, but almost as a matter-of-fact professional descriptions that the reader accepts.
S. K. Nicholls writes with ease and clarity and gives the reader rich, full scenes to imagine with the simplest of words, such as in the telling of “ . . . my first kiss in the midst of the rain of swirling pink crabapple petals . . .” She proves that simplicity paints a masterpiece.
She also effortlessly shows the soul of a building where it “reeked of chemicals and pain.” With just those five words, the reader feels and smells the repulsion of what once existed in one room. Even the real, but imaginary, “fairy babies” with their stinging “insect-like tails” that Ms. Bea fears almost materialize within the novel’s pages.
The author is adept at using dialect to give her characters a real life to their voices. Though a different dialect than those utilized by Mark Twain and Charles W. Chestnut, S. K. Nicholls nonetheless hears dialect well. She also employs the use of early twentieth century and mid-century slang to a T. “Slap me some skin!” was my thought as her characters, particularly Moses, spoke easily with words and phrases common decades ago.
“The word from the bird” is this: S. K. Nicholls’ “Red Clay and Roses” is a well-written, factual fictional novel that will grasp the reader’s attention from start to finish. I would place it among other well-known historical fictional novels (such as, for example, those written in the vein of Anthony Trollope and Margaret Mitchell) to be used as, perhaps, required reading in both high school and college English and American history, and social studies courses.
I highly recommend this novel.
© Susan Marie Molloy and all works within. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and any works here on this site without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.