[Issue #1, Winter 1997-98]
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
By Rebecca Wells
Reviewed by Kate McGinnity
In her second novel, Rebecca Wells takes us back in time to a strongly bonded
group of Southern women whose escapades and unconditional love for one another
charm us and touch our hearts. The close-knit sisterhood ("Ya-Yas")
of Vivi Walker and friends begins in high school in 1930s Louisiana and
continues through adulthood, child-rearing days, and twilight years. But
it is Vivi's 1990s adult daughter Siddalee who sets the novel in motion
with her decision to write a play based on her mother's Ya-Ya past.
Siddalee requests the treasured scrapbook ("Divine Secrets") her
mother has been keeping for years, thus setting the stage for our glimpses
into Vivi's journals and letters. While Siddalee searches for a script in
the pages of memories, we are treated to images of another time, marked
by brightly colored toenail polish, cigarettes and Bloody Marys, convertible
cars crammed with kids, and summers at the lake. A highlight is an extended
sequence detailing the excitement and glamour leading up to the Atlanta,
Georgia premiere of Gone With the Wind in December, 1939.
Wells is a wonderful storyteller, and easily weaves back and forth between
Ya-Ya history and present time. Many of the novel's memories are double-edged:
we have a window into Siddalee coming to terms with the pain of her childhood
and the challenging relationship with her mother. The real achievement here
is the ability to tell this story without an excess of judgment or moralizing.
Like Mary Karr's extraordinary memoir, The Liars' Club, Wells's novel
shows us the American family far beyond the taint of mere dysfunction as
its members struggle through abuse and mental illness. We come to love these
survivors, and to realize that even the most extreme human behavior is still
very human and very much a part of our collective 20th century experience.
With the exception of a somewhat predictable ending, Divine Secrets of
the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is a captivating book: mostly delightful, sometimes
wrenching, but always engaging.
From Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
I forgot to tell you about the theater! The Hollywood people
made it so the front of the Loew's Grand looks exactly like the front of
Tara. And there somehow was a whole lawn they grew across Peachtree Street
for all the stars to walk on. They walked on this new grass the whole day.
Mr. Gable was so chivalrous, Necie. He said exactly what I would have wanted
him to say. He said that the night wasn't his night but that the night belonged
to Miss Mitchell. Oh, that really showed me what Mr. Gable is made of. That
made me fall in love with him to the point that I will just never get over
it. [p. 102]
Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood from Amazon.com.
titles by Rebecca Wells
Kate McGinnity is an autism consultant and Trager practitioner living in
Cambridge, Wisconsin with her husband, Bob Wake, and their son August.
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