“You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.” The older I get, the more I identify with this old saying.
I’m a Southern girl, born and raised in Louisiana, but have now lived in Maryland (NOT the South, no matter what you Yankees say to me), longer than I lived in Louisiana. But, when I read a truly Southern novel like When the Moon Turns Blue by Pamela Terry, I feel the Southerness in my bones. I remember who I am and what I am, a GRITS, a “girl raised in the South,” a girl who grew up in a small town, far smaller than Terry’s Wesleyan, Georgia, but nonetheless filled with the same kinds of people and kinds of drama that Terry captures so well.
This is Terry’s second novel, her sophomore effort. Kim Wright in her essay “Why a Sophomore Novel is So Different from the First” posits that it’s not the novel that is so different; it’s that “first-time writers are different from second-time writers. It takes a whole different mindset to get through your second book.” I’ve found this to be true whenever I stumbled upon a debut novel that I loved, and then gobbled up that author’s subsequent novels, which I also loved but in a completely different way. The second novel always seemed deeper, more substantial than the first. I found this to be true with the jump from Terry’s first novel The Sweet Taste of Muscadines to this her second, and likewise with the stark differences between Kirstin Chen’s first novel Soy Sauce for Beginners and her second novel Bury What We Cannot Take. Both Chen and Terry have a lifelong fan here.
The title of Terry’s second novel apparently comes from W. H. Auden’s libretto of the operetta Paul Bunyan, and the literary allusions do not stop there. Awash with literary devices, Terry’s descriptions of Marietta’s house and furnishings made me wish for dinner on a tray in front of the fire in Logan Hargis’s library. In the prologue, Terry sets a scene that really sang for me: “A thin stripe of morning light occasionally touched his shoulder like a knighthood.” I loved her use of imagery and her highly descriptive style of writing, which I found to be as southern as the proverbial gilding of the lily. Nature was a recurring theme throughout, whether it be dogs, birds (one in particular), horses, or the ice storm that envelops the town causing floods and power outages that force the main characters together. I also loved Terry’s chapter titles, which were simply a list of the characters featured in each chapter, much like the stage directions for a play, listing the characters in each scene.
While technically realistic fiction, given the mentions of certain political developments of recent years, it has an old-school feel to it, a sense of old southern gentility. However, the racial tensions in the book really show there is much work to be done in this country on that front, especially in the South. Terry does a good job of showing how race can divide a community, even in today’s society, but she also shows how divisive racism can be in a family as well.
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved how clever it felt to me, I loved how she had many of the characters grow and evolve into better versions of themselves throughout the story. I loved how there was an element of mystery that wasn’t resolved until the very end. When the Moon Turns Blue is a worthy sophomore novel from a true Southerner.
Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this novel.