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Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Watermelon King

Author: Daniel Wallace
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: My Year of Reading Dangerously

The tradition of the Watermelon King in the small town of Ashland, Alabama goes back as far as anyone can remember. The town is world famous for their watermelons, and each year they have a festival where a man is crowned watermelon king for the year.

Thomas Rider comes to Ashland in search of his past. He knows the basics. He knows that his mother, Lucy Rider, came here many years ago, gave birth to him, and died. But what he really wants to know is the details. What happened when she came? What did she do to stir up so many people, and why does her name still resonate with so many people in Ashland?

The first half of this book is stories from different people in town as they tell Thomas about the town, about his mother and about what happened that summer many years ago when she arrived in Ashland. This was my favorite section, because of the way each narrator's voice added a different piece to the story that Thomas unravels about his past.

Anna, who became a good friend of Thomas' mother describes her life before meeting her:

"I met your mother when I was eighteen years old and working as a waitress at the Steak and Egg, every morning serving coffee to anyone who had fifty cents and a shirt and shoes on. Dark days, for me, before she came. I mean, there I was, a high school graduate, without much hope that things would ever change. I would always think about how many actual cups of coffee I'd poured, and I though, I can't count that high. And if I could have and actually arrived at the number, I thought I might have to kill myself. It would have been too depressing because it would have been the biggest number there was in my life up to then. I had probably served more cups of coffee than I had dollars in the bank. More cups of coffee than kisses from a man. More cups of coffee than times I had told my nephew to straighten up and fly right, or told Janet, my best friend from high school, to leave her own husband because he was just no good."

This section just sums up Anna's life at the time so neatly. She goes on in the same chapter to describe why she didn't think much about how many cups of coffee she'd served on account of the fact it might cause her to have to kill herself. She is, in short, ready for a change. When Lucy comes into town and befriends her, life does change dramatically.

Anna isn't the only one affected by Lucy. Each of the narrators, either with great ease, or great reluctance admit the effect that Lucy had on them when she came into town. Every man loved her, it seemed. The women... while they didn't all take as kindly to an outsider who riled up their men.

Piecing each story together, we learn more about Lucy's stay in town. This is the kind of story where small details come back to connect to each other. But the second half of the book, which is told from Thomas' point of view, didn't keep the momentum going. The book is deliberately told so that tall tales are mixed in with reality, but there were some plot devices that took too big a suspension of belief. As we head towards the conclusion of the book, I found myself more and more disengaged from it. That was too bad, because there is a lot to like in this southern-flavored read.

Other reviews:
Becca's review
Nymeth's review

5 comments:

Nymeth said...

I think I actually liked the second part of the book better. It's too bad it didn't keep your interest as much, but I'm glad that you enjoyed it overall :)

Kim L said...

nymeth-that's interesting that we each liked different parts of the book! It goes to show how readers can take away very different things from the same book.

Debi said...

Nice review, Kim. I definitely want to get to this book one day soon! Of course, I can say that about so many books. ;)

Trish said...

I kind of felt a little disengaged near the ending of Big Fish, but I wonder if that's because I saw the movie first and LOVED it. I read Nymeth's review on this one a while ago and have thought about giving this one a shot, but ehhhh...just not sure! Thanks for the great review.

Becca said...

Hey, thanks for linking to me! I didn't even have to tell you :-)

The one thing I didn't like about the book was that he changed the writing style halfway through. I don't think we'd have to pick whether we liked the first half better or the second half if he'd stayed consistent throughout. Know what I mean?