Friday, July 11, 2008

Tied to the Tracks

Tied to the Tracks is a book set in the south, in a college town an hour by train out of Savannah, Georgia, where the Civil War is known as the War between the States and where everyone is related to everyone else either through blood or marriage. Into this community come three interlopers from Hoboken, who find in Ogilvie purpose and love.

I'm frankly a sucker for tales of small-town America. If you made me live in small-town America, I'd run shrieking for the hills, but I never tire of reading about the funny, witty, by and large educated men and women who seem to populate these towns (step forward Jennifer Crusie and Joshilyn Jackson and Lani Diane Rich) and how under the eyes of everyone they know, they find the Big L.

Anyway, Lippi has scored a winner for me. I won't go into too much detail, but here's a run-down.

Angie Mangiamele runs a company filming documentaries, and is invited by a literary legend, Miss Zula Bragg, to Ogilvie GA to make a documentary on the occasion of Miss Zula's 50th graduation anniversary. Angie has no option but to accept the job, although every sinew in her is screaming danger. Her old flame, John Ogilvie, is the new chair of English...and all set to marry one of the town's patrician beauties.

There we are. Of course, in real life, no English professor is as hot/fit/gorgeous as John, although I can well believe that Angie's two partners in her film business are as written: seedy 50ish Tony who lurches from married woman to married woman, and the gorgeous Rivera Rosenblum, tall Jewish Puerto-Rican of lesbian tendencies. Angie herself is a classic placeholder heroine - not really interested in clothes, a bit of a workaholic, a family kind of girl with deep friendships.

But who wants real life when they can have the rich variety of characters that inhabit Ogilvie: Patty-Cake: the statutory mad as a bag of badgers female defending her territory against the evil Northern interlopers; the wary Miss Zula living with her cuddly cooking sister Miss Maddie; the exotic lovely and slightly Aspergers Japanese maths prof married to John's brother Rob.

Then there are secrets old and new that are exposed as the summer wears on with ramifications for most of the main characters.

This is a gentle book, with a gentle rhythm and events which goes to the heart of why I love this kind of book so much - no violence, no crazy murder plots, just people coming and going, falling in love and fighting it a little, and an ending that allows everyone a little happiness.

The book that I've read about the south that I love most is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, peopled by the eccentrics that John Berendt met during frequent visits to Savannah in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and perhaps Lippi could have gone further down the Berendt path in creating her cast - but that might arguably have distracted from the driving narrative of John and Angie which powers the book. Although this is billed as straight fiction, it is a good strong romance, and Lippi has an unerring eye for the moments that send sizzle through a reader without being explicit - personally I find that works much better than the 'tab A slots into tab B' clarity of many romance novels. There's a moment when John takes Angie's hand and puts her finger on his pulse and it is so simple and so effective in reminding me of that slight vertigo/breathlessness/stomach-dropping-away sensation of early love that I almost feel it myself. Now that's good writing. Oh, and no, there are no rape-lite scenes of seduction either, ronaldp...

Anyway this means that yes, I am going to go out looking for Pajama Girls of Lambert Square, Lippi's latest novel.

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