Monday, April 18, 2011

Favorite Reads Giveaway: Before Women Had Wings by Connie May Fowler

I have had the pleasure of introducing you to three of my all-time favorite books during the giveaway series I began at the end of March. The Favorite Reads book stack is still pretty tall, so here it is -- another Favorite Read from A Worn Path.

First, let me congratulate Kristi Wilson on being the winner of Kaye Gibbons' second novel A Virtuous Woman from last week's giveaway. It's awesome that she won this book, because Kristi and I went to high school and graduated together. Since then, she and her husband -- also a classmate of ours -- moved to Vienna, Austria, where Jeremy has been a trombonist for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007.

I have followed their blog The Vienna Wilsons, about everyday aspects of living overseas as Americans, for quite some time. Jeremy also writes an orchestra-related blog called Back Row Perspectives. Isn't it wonderful when people you know go on to do fabulous things, and (thanks to the internet and blog world) you can live vicariously through them? I love reading about even daily life in Vienna, as it is decidedly different from my own back home in Tennessee. Enjoy, Kristi!

This week, I present to you as the current Favorite Reads Giveaway, Connie May Fowler's Before Women Had Wings. Published in 1996, Fowler's third novel garnered praise from both critics and from other authors. The novel won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award that year, and was also awarded the Francis Buck Award. The novel was made into an ABC Network television movie in conjunction with Oprah Winfrey; the movie was subsequently awarded an Emmy. (You can watch it online here -- in several parts, and not great quality, but it can be watched!)

Words from authors I love (who also apparently love Fowler):
  • Lee Smith: "Achingly real, yet more than real, Before Women Had Wings has the authentic ring of truth and myth combined."
  • Amy Tan: "Stinging with tenderness, this is her best yet."
And also a couple of excellent media quotes:
  • LA Times: "Strong prose . . . Rings real and authentic."
  • The Atlanta Journal & Constitution: "[Fowler] triumphs. . . . [Her] prose is never less than as sinewy as cypress trees and as rich as Christmas cake. . . . Few writers capture poverty's weird chemistry of aching hope and grinding pessimism like Fowler. . . . This novel will make you hurt in the best way -- and make your mind, like Bird's, fly high over pure, paradise seas."
  • Southern Living: "Clearly [it] ended too soon because weeks after finishing this book I still think about it. That's the hallmark of this writer's work. She makes me care beyond sense what happens to a cast of troubled characters."
Short Synopsis via Amazon:
A nine-year-old narrator whose voice is heavy with sorrow, but who learns truths about the heart, is the focus. The reader learns lessons about a child's love for her parents, even when that child is the helpless victim of their physical and emotional abuse. Avocet Jackson, called Bird, lives with her parents, Billy and Glory Marie, and her older sister, Phoebe, in a roach-infested Florida shack. When Billy (a frustrated country music singer who has squandered his talent in booze) commits suicide, a desperate Glory Marie takes the girls to the outskirts of Tampa, where they move into a dilapidated trailer.

Terrorized by her mother's alcohol-fueled rages, Bird is further confused by the fire-and-brimstone scriptures of the Bible, which she takes literally. She feels that Jesus and the devil are battling for control over her life, and when her mother becomes more violent and calls her "fat, lazy, [and a] liar," she concludes that Jesus has spurned her. Fowler brilliantly conveys a child's bewilderment when the sources that should provide succor -- parents and religion -- instead inspire fear. Her depictions of physical violence -- Glory Marie's beating at the hands of a man hired by her jealous husband, or her own brutal attacks on Bird and Phoebe -- spare no harrowing details. Fowler mixes the squalid details of Bird's life with the child's magical dreams of hope and healing.
You may notice a trend in my Favorite Reads Giveaways so far: they all seem to focus on dark aspects of life. I would agree that yes, I have definitely read a lot of fiction that dwells on abuse, marital problems, alcoholism, etc. However, what makes me like these novels is a) that they depict life as it is (in other words, real) but b) they also present an enormous sense of hope amidst and in spite of all the negativity. I believe that this, also, is very realistic. Children, in particular, are very resilient; not without problems after facing childhood abuse or family issues, but resilient. They maintain a sense of hope that often defies all reasoning, but nevertheless can sometimes carry them through to the other side. I like that hope, and so I have read these novels. (My mom, on the other hand, refuses.)

To enter the Favorite Reads Giveaway for Connie May Fowler's Before Women Had Wings, just fill out the form below. Extra entries for sharing on Facebook, on Twitter, on your own website or blog, or just for following!

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