Book Review: “Slightly South of Simple” by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Not until the last fire was extinguished, ninety-nine days after the World Trade Center attack, could Ansley Murphy accept that her husband perished in the south tower. Why did her gentle, adoring Carter, who dearly loved their daughters Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson, have to die in such a merciless manner? When tempted to crumble into a sobbing mass, Ansley’s responsibilities snapped her back into reality. “When I was too scared to go on, too shaken to stand, too rattled to know which way was up, I carried on for the three best parts of me.” After thoroughly investigating her options, Ansley returned to her big old house in Peachtree Bluff, Georgia. In the peaceful town by the ocean, Ansley hoped to regenerate her family and, an interior decorator, earn a living.
Caroline, a dedicated New York City girl, grumbled nonstop about leaving civilization to live amongst “too many mullets and too few chromosomes.” Sloane, the daughter most devastated by her father’s death, yearned to be anywhere but there. Emerson, aged ten, needed her family to be whole and happy again. Six months later Caroline returned to attend New York University, and, after graduation, accomplished her goal of marrying “New York royalty,” James Preston Beaumont III. Sloane graduated from college in Georgia and married Adam who prioritizes his military career over their marriage. Emerson, a talented and stunning beauty, headed for Hollywood. Their story begins sixteen years after their father’s death as the sisters return to Peachtree with more personal baggage than suitcases in tow.
James, despite Caroline’s six-month pregnancy, had announced that he is leaving her for Edie Fitzgerald, a supermodel and star of Ladies who Lunch, a popular reality show. Like Ansley before her, Caroline packed up her daughter Vivi, age 11, and fled to Plumtree. Adam yet again choosing another nine-month tour of duty over his marriage and sons, Sloan loaded toddler Adam and infant Taylor into their van and headed for Georgia. Emerson, filming a movie in the Atlanta area, decided to stay with her mother and sisters. In alternating chapters, Ansley and Caroline narrate the familial joys and frustrations of “Murphy, party of eight.”
Ansley frankly admits that “… Caroline has never been her favorite child … I love her to pieces. I’d take a bullet for her … But she is tricky.” Caroline proclaims herself an unabashed social climber because “she never felt it was a bad thing to want to better your station in life.” However, beneath her bravado and snobbery, Caroline is relieved that “There are no people in the world to make you realize what a spoiled, selfish bitch you’ve become and put you right back in your place quite like sisters … thank God I have two.”
At Plumtree, they may quarrel about Caroline grabbing the guesthouse, question Sloane’s peaceful facade, and urge Emerson to eat “real food,” but woe to the person threatening their sisterly bond. And, a few days after their arrival, the sisters decide that their mother will start dating. Sixteen years alone is long enough!
On the morning that her daughters announce their arrivals, Ansley is hired to redecorate a yacht that barely survived a hurricane. The person requesting the work must have more money than brains, but she’s up for the challenge. Mr. More-Money-Than-Brains turns out to be Jack, her “first bona fide summer love” and the man she had planned to marry. Jack attempts to renew their relationship, but Ansley, for vacuous reasons, vacillates. Not Caroline, Sloane, and Emerson! They start promoting Jack relentlessly after their first meeting.
In the hands of a lesser writer, Ansley’s romantic confusion, James’s infidelity, Sloane’s pretense, and Emerson’s anorexic eating might be cut-and-dried story lines that nicely sort out with a minimum of conflict. Instead, Harvey has a timely knack of providing background material that throws character perspectives and the story line askew. Initially, the conclusion is disappointing because Harvey leaves a major story line unresolved and opens another as the book ends. A disappointing deviation from writing that aptly builds characters with minor but illuminating details and moves the story along with mindful balance between Ansley and Caroline’s narrations. Then, Harvey reveals in “Conversation with the Author” that Slightly South of Simple is the first in her Peachtree Bluff series and that she intends sequels for Sloane and Emerson.
Great news because Ansley Murphy and her daughters, as individuals and as a family, are likeable, intriguing and deserving of sequels.
BIO: Kristy Woodson Harvey is also the author of Dear Carolina and Lies and Other Acts of Love, and she is the founder of Design Chic, a popular interior design blog. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites including Southern Living, Doming, Our State, Houzz, Salisbury Post, and the New Bern Sun Journal. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and son. Contact: www.kristywoodsonharvey.com.
As you can see from the picture, I try to protect Mary from further rumpy-trumpy—I cannot make myself preface that name with “President,” and he’s not worth wasting ink for capital letters—jolts by covering parts of the morning newspaper. She, of course, thinks I’m after her breakfast; in reality, I’m trying to avoid yet another shrieking attack.
Despite my best efforts, did she ever shriek when she read “The Democrats … questioned whether [rumpy-trumpy’s] company, which he still owns and which owns Mar-a-Logo, was charging the government ‘fair and appropriate rates’ for use of the property while there at the service of the president” (1)
To paraphrase Mary, “whether the government is being charged a fair rate?” We the people are paying millions of dollars for rumpy-trumpy to play grand and glorious pooh-bah at his glitzy pleasure dome every weekend? Why doesn’t he, she wonders, complete the image with a turban sporting a ruby the size of his ego—if such a colossal jewel exists—and surrounding himself with eunuchs brandishing scimitars? After she calms down, Mary will realize that rumpy-trumpy is surrounded by eunuchs. Mental, that is. I also heard “harem” in her rant, but better leave that one alone.
Ah yes, Mary certainly had a good rant that morning, but not all was lost. I snitched her bacon, and she never even noticed.
Purrs and cream,
1. O’Connell, Jonathan. “Government Watchdog to Review Trump’s use of Mar-a-Logo.” Times-News. 17 June 2017. Sec. A.