Everybody in Rosalita, Texas, wondered why the Sanders family had come back to town and bought the house next door to Lou Jean Perry. It was the absolute last place they should want to be. Now, Kayla Sanders looks back on that sizzling summer of her childhood, when the secrets of the past cast long shadows over two families' lives.
In June 1967 Lou Jean Perry's husband, the first and only person from Rosalita killed in Vietnam, had been dead for more than a year. When thirteen-year-old Kayla first met her, a laughing Lou Jean executed a perfect backbend right there on her sparkling clean kitchen floor. It stood to reason that this bright-spirited woman -- the complete opposite of Kayla's brittle, churchgoing mother, Sarah Jo -- would become Kayla's new best friend.
As the heat and madness of summer intensified, Sarah Jo's motives for moving next to Lou Jean would become clear, but not before a family's foundation cracks and crumbles, a woman is driven to the brink of madness, and a young girl discovers that passion listens not to the mind's reason but to the heart's demands.
Writing about family with a poignant intensity, Cindy Eppes draws on her Southern roots to create a coming-of-age story told by a narrator straight out of Eudora Welty, yet indelibly stamped with a distinctive, contemporary style. Beautifully crafted, South of Reason shows Eppes to be an extraordinary storyteller, weaving a shimmering web shot through with the rainbow colors of life.
Kayla Marie Sanders, on the cusp of a tricky adolescence, tries to understand why her parents have left Cameron, Tex., and moved to Rosalita, in Eppes's poignant debut. Overheard conversations between Kayla's mother and grandmother suggest that something other than chance is behind the family's decision to live next door to beautiful, eccentric Lou Jean Perry and her son, Charles Dale. (Everyone gets an articulated middle name, in a somewhat stale Southern-fiction convention.) As things in Kayla's household grow stranger and tenser, she struggles in Sherwood Anderson fashion to understand circumstances and motives beyond her control. Impressive if not groundbreaking, Eppes's tale is unassuming and complex in its execution, full of rich, authentic details, colorful and often surprising metaphors and expertly imagined characters. They have to draw upon their deepest reserves of compassion and self-knowledge to navigate a tumultuous sea of conflicting feelings. The "mystery" of the Sanderses' move that Kayla and Charles Dale are half-siblings is dispensed with early on; the larger palette is what's important, and the story plows forward to a conclusion both painful and necessary, which poses as many emotional questions as it answers. Along the way are more than a few resonant moments in the kitchen between Kayla and her mysterious kindred spirit, Lou Jean; fans of Like Water for Chocolate will enjoy the celebration of food preparation as a mystical ritual. This finely crafted debut marks Eppes as a writer worth watching. Author appearances in Texas.