ELVISSusie MeePeachtree Publishers215...

THE GIRL WHO LOVED

August 01, 1993|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK DO CHILDREN NEED RELIGION?: HOW PARENTS TODAY ARE THINKING ABOUT THE BIG QUESTIONS Martha Fay Pantheon Books 237 pages, $23 | J. WYNN ROUSUCK DO CHILDREN NEED RELIGION?: HOW PARENTS TODAY ARE THINKING ABOUT THE BIG QUESTIONS Martha Fay Pantheon Books 237 pages, $23,LOS ANGELES TIMES BUT I WOULDN'T WANT TO DIE THERE Nancy Pickard Pocket Books 243 pages, $20

THE GIRL WHO LOVED ELVIS

Susie Mee

Peachtree Publishers

215 pages, $18.95 Whenever anything of consequence happens to LaVonne Grubbs, Elvis seems to pop up. She first hears of him after she has worked up the nerve to travel all by herself to Chattanooga from her hometown of Goody, Ga. The clerk in the five-and-ten persuades her to buy a record, and before you can say "hound dog," LaVonne forms a fan club with her co-workers at the textile mill.

"The Girl Who Loved Elvis" is a first novel by an author and actress named Susie Mee, and although some names and references initially appear to be poking fun, the book is as gentle as the cotton LaVonne spins into thread. In LaVonne, Ms. Mee has created a warm, inquisitive, humorous character who is approaching womanhood with both eagerness and anxiety.

A devoted reader of True Confessions, LaVonne is torn between the sexual curiosity aroused by her no-account former boyfriend, and her considerably more restrained respect for an up-and-coming colleague at the mill, Grady Fay Owens.

Ms. Mee has an eye for detail, an ear for language and an ability to create an entertaining character whose fate involves the reader. All that and Elvis, too.

@ In less subtle, sophisticated hands, this could have become a tract designed to support either the "yes" or the "no" position. But the subtitle gives away the scope and gentle wisdom of Martha Fay's effort.

She does not attempt to make an argument on either side; rather, she wants to examine the role religion plays in modern life, to question parents about how they were raised and how they, in turn, raise their children. She pokes at all the curiosities of this God business -- at the Protestant theologian determined to aid his Russian-Jewish wife in the raising of his stepchild as a Jew, at parents who ship their children to religious camps or retreats to compensate for their own lack of belief, at people who have abandoned traditional religion and no longer believe it to be a staple of childhood.

She arrives, finally, at an appreciation of the speculative mind, at a child's ability to wonder about belief, about life before them and after they're gone -- which is a kind of religion, though not doctrinaire.

"I.O.U.," Nancy Pickard's last Jenny Cain mystery, was one of the most affecting crime novels of recent years. In it, Jenny, a foundation director and amateur sleuth, had to come to grips with her feelings of guilt and grief after the death of her mentally ill mother. This follow-up, which transplants lifelong small-towner Jenny to New York, doesn't have the emotional resonance of "I.O.U.," although it does feature an intriguing cast of secondary characters.

After the death of her close friend Carol Margolis, head of the Hart Foundation, Jenny leaves her Massachusetts hometown for the Big Apple to fill in as temporary director. She soon learns that her pal left the Hart in disarray: "If I didn't know better, I'd say she killed herself to avoid our next board meeting," deadpans the president of the board.

"But I Wouldn't Want To Die There" is hampered by its abrupt ending and some stilted dialogue, but Ms. Pickard's depictions of eccentric New Yorkers add spice to the mystery. Jenny's movie-addicted, kleptomaniacal landlady, a slew of crazy cabdrivers and a naked, suicidal neighbor convince her that New York may be a nice place to visit, but . . .

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.