'Georgia Bottoms' sure to please

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2011

“Georgia Bottoms” by Mark Childress. 2011. Little, Brown and Co. 278 pp. $24.99.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — I can’t help that I kept hearing Miss Scarlett saying “Well fiddle-dee-dee” all the time I was reading “Georgia Bottoms.”
Mark Childress has brought the determined, delusional Southern belle to life in his book titled after his heroine.
Just the name is a laugh. Georgia Bottoms — then you find out the character’s family used to be Butts, but they changed it.
Butts or Bottoms, Georgia should belong to the Proper Job Club, as her chief occupation is entertaining gentlemen callers and their sexual peccadillos.
Among her “beaus” are the sheriff, the judge, the doctor, the bank president and the Baptist preacher. Shocking!
She doesn’t ask for anything in return — they’re all grateful or gracious enough to leave cash gifts for expenses.
She lives in what was once a fine Southern home with her dementia-adled mother, Little Mama, and bad-boy brother, called … Brother … and their little dog, Whizzy.
But she also lives in an apartment over the garage, one that can easily be redecorated to fit the tastes of her gentlemen. The judge fancies he is a Confederate soldier with Georgia his mistress of many petticoats. The sheriff is a cowboy; another friend likes a little S&M.
Georgia also claims to make quilts in that apartment, selling them for outrageous prices at local stores or giving them on special occasions.
She describes herself as keeping many plates spinning in the air. She has all these careful, separate secrets she maintains in order to live the life to which she has become accustomed.
In her mid-30s, she has no man of her own. She dresses to the nines, so that other ladies in town are jealous. She has attended church every single Sunday at Six Points Baptist and she gives a marvelous luncheon every September to show off her cooking skills. English pea salad, anyone?
Cliches? Why, yes. That’s what makes it funny.
Bawdy? Yep, hilariously so. Georgia doesn’t take any of this seriously. She’s like a baker — on Tuesday she makes dinner rolls, on Wednesday, she makes cupcakes, and so on.
She has a fascination for ants with their well-ordered colonies — or is it the idea of the drones serving the queen?
Author Childress sets the story far off the beaten path, in a town where decades are irrelevant. Six Points has no internet, little cellphone coverage, few stores and limited interest in the outside world.
For the ladies of Six Points, excitement boils down to good gossip, so how Georgia manages to carry on all these affairs is remarkable. She’s skilled at deception.
It’s easy to fool Little Mama, whose memory is going. One thing she clutches to, though, is her hatred for black people. She blames Rosa Parks for everything.
Brother spends most of his time drunk, occasionally going overboard for some cause or another. He’s another plate Georgia has to keep in the air.
But not long after Georgia works her charms on readers, one plate begins to go out of control.
It’s that preacher, feeling guilty. Georgia has no guilt, no need for it. It’s easy for her to wreak havoc on the poor man and his angry wife.
OK, one less plate to spin.
Georgia is, possibly, more self-centered than our old friend Scarlett.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center, it disrupts her annual luncheon — and people have the nerve not to show up! They don’t even call! And no one wants her beautiful pea salad or the homemade pimento cheese. Ungrateful bunch.
The preacher plate isn’t the only one tipping. Georgia gets a call from her dark secret past, and it’s grown up and hungry.
Here goes another one — best friend Krystal is having an election crisis and turns on Georgia viciously.
Next thing she knows, there’s a moving truck outside Krystal’s house — the NERVE of that woman to leave when Georgia needs her.
For Georgia Bottoms, Georgia Bottoms is the center of the universe. Everything MUST go her way. Her men have to fit in their allotted spots, no exceptions. She has to be in charge.
But here’s Brother, so passionate about a candidate that he winds up in the custody of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation — must be those barrels of fertilizer in the garage.
And, surprise! Here’s her big secret, standing on the porch.
Georgia runs out of clever fixes, and all her plates start crashing.
You can count on Childress for a twist at the end of all his novels. You might expect explosions in this one, thanks to Brother, but what happens is even funnier — Georgia escapes one disaster by blithely driving right into a new one.
Georgia can be despicable, with all her manipulations and her disregard for anyone or anything that gets in her way.
Well, fiddle-dee-dee, there she goes and somehow makes herself likeable. She’s not vicious — she’s just using what she’s got, beauty and a clever mind — to make a life that fits her.
That’s all anybody deserves, isn’t it?
The fun part of the book is watching what she does when the plates stop spinning — how she uses the crash to her advantage. Well, it has to be on her terms, doesn’t it? Georgia’s not going to let anyone tell her what to do.
I wouldn’t call the book dirty, because the “dirty” parts are all pretty funny. You’ll spend far more time laughing or saying “Well, fiddle-dee-dee.”
Childress keeps coming up with these irresistible characters — love them or hate them, you can’t stop reading because you have to know what happens next.

Author signing
Mark Childress will sign copies of “Georgia Bottoms,” as well as his previous books, at Literary Bookpost on Saturday, April 9, 1-3 p.m. A reception follows.