It’s my turn this month to host book club and I picked Charms for an Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons. I worry that you might have over-inflated expectations if I tell you it’s one of my favorites, so I won’t.
It tells the story of 3 generations of smart and intelligent southern women during WWII. Outspoken Charlie Kate is the local midwife and healer. Sophia is her unlucky-in-love daughter and mother of teenager, Margaret. It reminds me a little of Secret Life of Bees and Saving Cece Honecut and everything by Fannie Flagg. If you enjoyed any of those, you should give it a read.
I’m naturally a book skimmer, but I made myself slow down so I wouldn’t miss anything. Gibbons descriptions are funny. Not “lol” type of funny. The type of funny that is insightfully dry that will make you smile even hours later. Here are some of my favorites:
She calls the local City News and Candy a “waiting room for the chronically pathetic” she talks about a minister and his “dollar prayer “and “white people who seemed to make their living automatically”, She describes the conversion of a first date by writing, “they were asking questions of each other with the rapidity of a school spelling match”. I also enjoyed, “he seemed bright enough to have absorbed something form school, even if his home life has erased his slate each evening.” There are dozens more. My friend Kammy has some of her favorite quotes here.
I read this book as a newlywed and identified most with the teenager Margaret, even though I not as smart as her, and I jumped at the chance to go away to college. She and I were both born mentally 35-overly responsible and cautious. We abhor silly frivolous girls, while still wondering if we might have more fun if we were more like them.
Now that I’m closer to 40 than 20, I identified with Sophia, even though my looks rank more in the “girl-next-store” range than in the head-turning bombshell range. Gibbons writes, “She had just recently begun the process of resigning herself to the slide from beautiful lady to handsome older woman, adjusting her lipstick from fire-engine red to brick, exchanging bright beads for pearls and stylish platform soles for pumps. And by ‘process’, I mean just that; she had not fully committed her body to middle age yet”. I could write volumes on how I can relate to this. Comfort takes priority over style most days for me, but every once in a while, I’ll wear my ridiculously high red platform heels, just to remind myself I’m not ready to join the AARP just yet.
My only complaint about this book is its brevity. The ending is satisfying, although a little abrupt and I would have loved to read an epilogue.
FYI The book was made into a movie. It doesn't do the book justice, but it shows up on Lifetime once in awhile.
If you’ve read it I’d love to hear your opinions on the following questions:
1. Purging is an ongoing theme throughout the book. If you died tomorrow would you purge?
2. What do you think of Sophia and Charlie Kate’s choice not to force Margaret to go to college?
3. Could you have lived w/ Charlie Kate?
4. Why are mother-daughter relationships so complicated? Did Margaret and Charlie Kate have an easier time getting along, because they had a generation between them? Why can no one drive you crazy like your mother, but there’s no one else that can comfort you like she can?
5. How romantic was “I gave you my artifacts”? What’s the most romantic gift you’ve ever received?
6. Did the “charms for an easy life work?” What your definition of easy?
7. Healing is also a common theme in the book. In what ways did these women “heal” their patients?”
8. Thoughts on Charlie Kate’s reunion with her husband
9. Gibbons begins the book w/ the quote by Nietzsche. “Stupidity in a woman is unfeminine”. How come men are lining up to date the smart girls? As a woman, do you feel pressure to hide how smart you are around men you are dating? (When my husband and I were first dating, he came with me to an extra credit lecture. After, he sincerely questioned me on my opinions. I had boyfriends that must have found me attractive, but that’s the first time (I was 23) I ever felt that a man-besides my father-appreciated my brain and it made me fall in love with him on the spot).
10. What do you think of Margaret altering the soldier’s letters?Linking up here.
If you'd like to read more about what I like to read click here.