Tuesday, June 14, 2011
SAVING CEE CEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman (2010) Viking Penguin, 306 pages
Cecilia (Cee Cee) Honeycutt is a twelve-year-old single child saddled with the responsibility of a mentally ill mother, a former beauty pageant queen who stomps about their Ohio town tarted up in bright lipstick and tired taffeta, her prize-winning tiara askew. While her father is on the road, Cee Cee luckily has her elderly neighbour Mrs. Odell to rely on for a dose of normalcy in her daily life. It's Mrs. Odell who provides Cee Cee's school lunch and offers up nuggets of reassuring wisdom when Cee Cee is about to crack from the worrisome burden that her mother has become. She tells Cee Cee, "When a chapter of your Life Book is complete, your spirit knows it's time to turn the page so a new chapter can begin. Even when you're scared or think you are not ready, your spirit knows you are."
One day in 1967, "the Happy Cow Ice Cream truck came over a crest in the road and hit Momma so hard she was knocked clean out of her geranium-red satin shoes." The death of Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt means that Cee Cee feels for the first time, "the flutter of a page turn deep within... as a chapter in [her] Life Book came to a close." Soon after, Cee Cee's great aunt Tallulah Caldwell (aka Tootie) arrives to spirit her away to a new life in Savannah to "a big ole house with plenty of room." But, it's Aunt Tootie's invitation, "I'd sure love to have you" that seals the deal. For Cee Cee "Those six simple words...filled the room with light."
They drive home to Savannah in a '48 Packard with a hood ornament called Delilah and therein begins Cee Cee's transition to a life among women brimming with Southern warmth and charm. With Cee Cee you'll meet Miz Goodpepper who has a claw-footed bathtub in which she soaks under the stars (in the company of Louie, a prurient peacock), Oletta, Aunt Tootie's long-serving cook and Cee Cee's sage companion on her grief journey, and "the great gaping vagina otherwise known as Violene Hobbs" who murdered a magnolia tree.
In the months that Cee Cee spends with these succulent wild women, she comes to realize that "Momma had left this world and set herself free, and in doing so, she had set me free too." In the hours that I spent inside the minds of Beth Hoffman's richly created characters between the pages of SAVING CEE CEE HONEYCUTT, I came to yearn for the balm of Southern hospitality and felt, more than just a little, saved by their company .