Friday, July 08, 2011

My Summer of Southern Discomfort (Stephanie Gayle)

See this cover? I assumed -- incorrectly, if I may add -- that this novel was going to be the easy, breezy read that I've wanted for days (okay, I was looking for a Plot-What-Plot romance). That was the only reason I picked this up from the Booksale shelf. I had to revise my notion when I read that the author had a story nominated for a Pushcart Prize. So I bought it, on the gut feeling that I wasn't going to completely lose out on this one. And I was right: Stephanie Gayle's My Summer of Southern Discomfort was a very quick and satisfying read on a rainy afternoon. It was easy, breezy -- but far from what I had expected.

Natalie Goldberg is a young lawyer whose messy affair with her married boss has forced her to move from New York to Georgia. There is a lot to get used to in the south -- the heat, her co-workers, and especially her new job as a prosecutor. I will have to warn you that if you're looking for something similar to a Sophie Kinsella or a Meg Cabot story (see cover), then you might be disappointed with this one. How Ms Gayle chooses to tell her story can be polarizing. Some readers might find the premise to be a bit dull especially those who are looking for a nice summer romance, a flirty beach read. There is not much in the way of romance or fun in this story. It's a straight-out slice-of-life story. Nothing too heavy, although it does tackle domestic abuse, religion, extra-marital affairs, and capital punishment in one way or the other, which I thought was just right for its twentysomething protagonist.

What I liked about it (and I'm sure that there are others there who might agree) was that Natalie's story felt very realistic to me. There was a gradualness in the way her relationships were developed during this long hot summer where she learns a lot about herself as an adult. Most of Natalie's story revolves around her work as co-counsel in a capital case. If found guilty, the man they are prosecuting receives the death sentence, one that Natalie has always firmly opposed. The resulting conflict sounded quite convincing to me, as was the court case that served as the novel's highest point. But as in real life, there are other issues that are mentioned here that are never really wrapped up (the rather unorthodox way that Natalie got her job, the loose ends from her former affair), which I thought added more credence to this character-driven book. I applaud Ms Gayle for handling her material well; this was an admirable way of depicting the life of a young professional woman with more pressing concerns than what she will wear to work and who she will kiss at night.

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