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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dollbaby: A Novel

I have found myself lately attracted to Southern writing, whether it be light and airy or Gothic. Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal is fit the bill.

A young Ibby finds herself on her estranged grandmother's doorstep in the summer of 1964. Her father has recently died and her mother can't handle her, so Fannie, her grandmother, takes her in. One challenge--Fannie has a habit of ending up in the asylum after one of her spells. Ibby's visit and questions about the family she never knew trigger one of these, and Ibby is left with Queenie and Dollbaby, Fannie's cook and housekeeper and mother-daughter pair, to solve the mystery of the deep, dark family secrets that remain hidden in nooks and crannies of her New Orleans estate.

This novel was absolutely, positively charming. So much so that I simply couldn't put it down. I wouldn't necessarily say that I whipped through it, but I was so completely invested in the characters that walking away from them just wasn't an option. McNeal has created a world of such full-bodied characters with far-reaching and complementary arcs that I find myself wondering why I can't read more of this book right this very second. The language is accessible and has a great deal of movement to it in a way that allows me to fully buy in while still recognizing the subtleties of her familiarity with these people. I don't know McNeal personally, but I imagine she knows her characters inside and out, and that familiarity is what makes these characters come alive on the page.

There was a richness to the story as well. I particularly appreciated that McNeal did not make Fannie a crotchety old lady who didn't want her granddaughter; my heart broke when she was carted off to the asylum because I just knew how much there was still to pass between Ibby and her grandmother. This choice allows us to better know Queenie and Dollbaby, and I just LOVE the relationship between Ibby and these two and the bond that is forged and information that is passed. Basically what I am trying to tell you is that I loved this book and I think it is well worth a read if you are looking for a great, solid piece of literature. So there.

Hard copy for purchase below.

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