Monday, March 14, 2011

Girls in Trucks Is the Best Piece of Southern Literature I've Read in a Long Time

I've got to run straight out and pick up a copy of Katie Crouch's novel Men and Dogs. I finished her first novel, Girls in Trucks, last night and it blew me away. I read other people's reviews on Goodreads and Amazon last night, because I just had to find out what they thought about it. I mean, how is it that I had never really heard of this book? That it had never been recommended to me?

What I learned was that not everyone had loved Girls in Trucks as much as I did. Many found the main character difficult to like, while others felt it was too dark. I think I actually loved it specifically for these reasons. Sarah Walters is difficult to like some of the time, but that only endeared her to me -- after all, how many of us are likeable every second of every day? I certainly am not. (Leading me to quote Beth Moore and say: "You're just a Skittle in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Really -- it isn't you. It's me." But that's another story for another time.) Sarah has her moments, and the nice thing about Crouch's Girls in Trucks is that it allows us to see them all. Her insecurities, her quirks, her embarrassing moments, and her vulnerable ones.

It is not a novel full of sunshine and cupcakes -- not that I'm against those things. The sun has shined all day today, making it a beautiful day after a week of rain. But -- like the rain that fell last week -- life has its cloudy days. It has wars, and earthquakes, and cancer, and loss. Girls in Trucks shows human life in all its terrible glory. But it also offers hope. My mom always asks, "Does it have a happy ending?" The answer in this case is yes and no. Hope exists at the end of Girls in Trucks, yet sadness is present, too.

I still haven't managed to tell you what Girls in Trucks is all about, have I? Here's a short(ened) synopsis from Crouch's website:  
Sarah Walters is a less-than-perfect debutante. She tries hard to follow the time-honored customs of the Charleston Camellia Society, as her mother and grandmother did, standing up straight in cotillion class and attending lectures about all the things that Camellias don't do. (Like ride with boys in pickup trucks). But . . . as soon as she can, she decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. . . . When life's complications become overwhelming, Sarah returns home to confront with matured eyes the motto: "Once a Camellia, always a Camellia"-- and to see how much fuller life can be, for good and for ill, among those who know you best.
 So as you see, one of the things I love about it is that Sarah is a southern girl at heart. And despite the fact that she moves to New York City, she remains that girl. Not the debutante type, though. The type of southern girl who likes farmer boys, and riding in pickup trucks. Crouch tells Sarah's story in a novel made up of short stories, changing points of view and narrators as though they were hats. Sometimes the reader sees Sarah in first-person point-of-view -- Sarah, in Sarah's voice. At other times Crouch chooses third-person omniscient. At still others, Crouch pulls out a seldom-used writer's trick: second person. You know, using "you." It sounds odd at first, but I truly think she might be the only person to pull it off in the history of writing. An exaggeration, of course, but one to prove the point that Crouch writes with extraordinary skill, even in second person

Although Girls in Trucks is in some ways a piece of southern literature, Crouch takes readers all over the globe, from Charleston to New York City; the Bronx to Vermont; and even on a South American trek. The short story element within a novel is sublime. Sarah Walters is at once extremely unlikeable and a character who incites sympathy. In other words, she's real. 

I'm esctatic about finding a "new" southern author to love. (In quotation marks, because this book was published three years ago.) I usually shy away from comparisons -- book covers that tout the author as "the next ___" or "just like ___" or say "readers of ___ will love" make me turn and run quickly away. However, that being said, Katie Crouch reminds me of my favorite modern southern authors -- Kaye Gibbons, Joshilyn Jackson, and Ellen Gilchrist. She flaunts the southern aspect, then skewers it. Men and Dogs is at the very top of my "to read" list, as is Crouch's new YA novel The Magnolia League, which will be released in May.


  1. I'm so happy that you've reviewed this book and liked it. I bought it a long time ago and it's been sitting and waiting for me to read it. You've just given me the push to do so! It sounds really good.


  2. Give it a try & let me know what you think -- I don't think you'll be sorry!

  3. I'm bumping this one up on my TBR - I love some good Southern Fiction!

  4. Julie, I love it southern lit, too! When I was in college, I think I took every single class offered at UT Chattanooga on southern lit. This is an excellent novel (& so is Joshilyn Jackson's work -- have you read her?).



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