~~Deep South Book Reviews~~
by Augusta Russel Scattergood
Homesick: A Memoir
By Sela Ward (Regan Books/Harper Collins, 2002)
My sister gave me a book for Christmas. I collect books, I treasure books, and she knows this. I especially like books written by Southerners, and if they’re autographed, all the better.
So Sela Ward’s Homesick: a Memoir, autographed during her visit to Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, was a perfect gift. Sela Ward, in case you’ve not turned on a TV in the past decade, starred in two hit shows, Sisters and Once and Again. She just happens to be from Meridian, Mississippi, though she, her husband and two young children now live closer to Hollywood.
Homesick, as it turns out, is not an airplane book. I attempted it on my plane ride from Memphis back to Newark, New Jersey, and about halfway into the trip, and not nearly halfway into the book, I realized this book was not the distraction I needed. It failed to tune out the screaming infant in the seat behind me and the inquiringly chatty passenger in the seat next to me.
So I gave up and reached for Janet Evanovich (her heroine’s a Jersey girl with attitude, the print is a generous size, and the action is fast). Sela Ward’s writing is chatty, in that downhome style of many memoirs written by Southerners. It’s a little like listening to a friend talk about herself. I put Homesick aside for later.
The book sat on my bedside table for a long while. Then it moved to the tower of books on the floor by my bed that seems to grow taller while I sleep each night—and Homesick wasn’t even near the top. I tried to pick it up once but fell asleep mid-sentence.
I’m not one to give up so easily on a book, especially one written by a fellow Mississippian. So I persevered. And somewhere between the author’s high school sorority years and her stint as a ‘Bama cheerleader, something happened. Whether it was the Bear Bryant story or the picture of her star defensive lineman “first love” that I related to, I was hooked. Before Sela Ward took off for New York to become a model and an actress, the book climbed to the top of my book tower and ended up on the nightstand. I was no longer falling asleep mid-sentence.
Quoting husband Howard, “a Jewish guy from California,” on knowing he had to marry her: “The South has two sides to it. Everything is as sweet as peach pie—until it’s not . . . Any woman who could carry off all that intelligence and toughness with such grace—I thought, that’s someone I can’t let go.” Howard realized he “was faced with a woman who knew how to stand her ground without losing her femininity.”
A perfect definition of Southern womanhood at its best.
Eventually Sela Ward brings her husband and two young children back to Meridian. They buy a second home--a farm where she plans to spend time introducing their children to life in a small town and to share with them the sense of place she feels is missing in their California lifestyle.
Some of what she writes is old news to those of us who grew up in towns like Meridian. Writing of her mother’s death, Sela Ward says, “It seemed as though the whole town turned out to pay its respects. This is how it is in a small town: in a place where families live their entire lives in close proximity, simple shared history is enough to bring people together in times of need.”
Yes, the book is fluffy and short. Some will be disappointed not to read a Hollywood insider “tell all.” But Sela Ward is a good storyteller and has the whole Southern girlfriend thing figured out. Her sister and her friend from Alabama appear often to comment on raising daughters, being daughters, growing up in the Deep South and living there now.
I finished the book feeling that here’s somebody in the spotlight, in the movies and on TV, who’s trying to do the right thing. It’s a book worth reading, and not only because Sela Ward plans to contribute a large portion of the book’s proceeds to the foundation she’s established for abused and neglected children.
“This is a story about home,” the book begins. Sela Ward’s Homesick, a Memoir is a book to share, as is Sela Ward’s message--family bonds are strong in small towns, friendship lasts longer, and the legacy of warmth and laughter is worth passing down.
Augusta Russel Scattergood recently retired after over twenty years as a librarian, the career she began as a 5th Grade student at the Hill Demonstration School in Cleveland, Mississippi. She has written about books for Skirt Magazine and Booklinks, and is making her debut in this USADEEPSOUTH issue (March, ‘03) as our official, most honorable, most delightful and knowledgeable monthly reviewer of books. Welcome Gusty!
Ye Editor also recommends Gusty’s excellent USADEEPSOUTH article titled A Letter From Paris, an account of her experiences while stranded in Paris following the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.
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