A Lesbian in Mayberry

Remember idyllic small town Mayberry? Imagine a town even smaller and put it in Texas. Deep in the heart of Texas.

Imagine the small local school, a nice small town man its principal. The Baptist church where he sings in the choir. Now imagine his little blonde daughter who also sings in the church choir.

Slam on the brakes. Wait. Now imagine that his little blonde daughter is a lesbian, ogling the other little girls.

This is WordPress blogger Sheila Morris’ coming-of-age memoir, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing.

Sheila writes the blog, I’ll Call It Like I See It. Her rescued Welsh Terrier, Red, writes another blog, called Red’s Rants and Raves. I read both blogs, but I admit I have a real affinity for hilarious Red and his worldview–admittedly one low to the ground.

By reading Sheila’s book I’ve gotten to know her better. I was surprised to learn that she came from such a small town–one so small I can’t even imagine living there.  Even the food seems different from what I am used to.  Take Ma’s (her paternal grandmother) fried pineapple pies. They sound a bit like turnovers, and they clearly are delicious.

This book was a comfortable and enjoyable read. The main tension was young Sheila’s attraction to other girls in the midst of that tiny town and the Baptist relatives. Three of her grandparents had a big hand in raising her, and she was obviously doted upon.

I’m not saying that there aren’t other negative elements that occasionally pop into view. The racist viewpoints of one of her grandmothers, for instance. Her disconnect from her mother, for another. The beloved grandmother she shared a bedroom with losing the last part of her life to serious depression.  But she paints the story with a loving wash that makes her childhood seem as if it’s ideal (if only there wasn’t this huge secret that she carries and doesn’t understand).

The structure of the book is different. In fact, I’d call it a book of short stories–each one in the genre of memoir, but each one holding its own as a story. Frequently the end of a chapter (or story), brings that particular story to a conclusion, then the next chapter will zip back in time and pick up just a little later than the previous story began. I thought this was interesting because I have a chapter that necessitates a flash forward, and I couldn’t figure out how to work it in with the rest of my book. But maybe it takes another “rethink” about structure.

This book is as charming as life in Mayberry.

28 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

28 responses to “A Lesbian in Mayberry

  1. That’s beautiful described. I started to follow “I’ll Call It Like I See It” just now. Thanks.

  2. I’ll have to read, Deep in the Heart, written by Sheila Morris. I am curious as to how Sheila Morris structures her memoir- flash forwards, back, short stories that stand alone, as structure when writing memoir can be tricky to navigate. Thank you for sharing this post, Luanne.

    • Luanne

      Let’s “chat” about it after you read it, ok? Structure is the most difficult part of writing a memoir I am pretty darn sure.

      • Me too, I am struggling with structure and have decided to make a formal paper “plan,” listing events in chronological order. I have started writing the memoir from the end of a life and am now starting to include the “flash backs” in time. At some point I will need to have a turning point, then a wrap up,…OMGoodness!
        x

        • Luanne

          Good idea to plot it out. I am working on that now, too, and finding some interesting patterns. Good luck with it, Lynne!

  3. The structure of this book sounds like overlapping roof shingles. And I can understand how little Sheila could have enjoyed a lovely near-idyllic childhood despite a big secret and rough spots. Thanks for writing this post.

    • Luanne

      That’s a good image to describe the structure, WJ. Reading the book made me glad more and more kids don’t have to hide parts of themselves any longer, but it also made me long for some of those small town values and the gentle pace of life.

  4. Thanks for introducing us to Sheila and her book, Luanne. It sounds as though reading her book may have shed some light on your own writing. Don’t you love when that happens? 🙂
    I love the cover of her book!

    • Luanne

      Definitely hop on over to Sheila’s blogs, Jill! She’s a regular and fun blogger who always has something interesting to say–although sometimes her dog does her talking for her!!!

  5. I love hearing about blogger books. I will check this one out!

  6. Luanne,
    Thank you so very much for this lovely review. It is the most thoughtful one I’ve ever had because you so totally “get” the little girl deep in the Piney Woods of southeast Texas. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been friends in cyberspace and I’ve gotten to know your Family Kalamazoo through the fabulous pictures and stories you’ve shared. When all is said and done, families are families and we all have a longing to be loved by our own.

    • Luanne

      It’s all there in the book to “get,” Sheila! I love your story. I was kind of jealous of your town and upbringing in some ways as I read the book! I hope you get some new readers–for both your books and your blogs!

  7. Pingback: A Lesbian in Mayberry | Red's Rants and Raves

  8. Robyn Whyte

    Sheila Rae was my college roommate and dear friend to this day. Your review so beautifully captures the tone of her book and the angst of her Baptist life. I loved her parents; I love her story, and I love her.

    • Luanne

      Robyn, I am not surprised about how you adore Sheila. She seems like a super special person! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I am gonna start following the blog too! Always looking for more bloggers to read.

  10. The cover, a little pistol packing, doll loving child clad in overalls beautifully illustrates the tensions within the enchanting stories Sheila writes about. Thank goodness she has shared her childhood with us, a slice of America melting away as fast as Crisco in a frying pan. It is a very different town and way of life from my big city roots, but as any us reach back into our childhood memories, I think it’s safe to say many of us were alike – trying to figure out who we were in a very alien adult world.

    Those pineapple pies sound like Southern-fried Heaven.

    Sheila you are neck and neck with Jean Shepherd as my all time favorite storyteller.

    Ann

  11. I follow Red and have now followed Sheila. This book sounds fabulous and I’ve added it to my TBR list. Thanks so much for the intro here – great work! 😀

  12. I really appreciated the genuine love for memoirs that you show us. You give us quite a variety to study and contemplate. All of them seem to have meaning and substance, ones can learn more about people in a ‘ground roots’ kind of way. I liked this review of this book, you showed it can be written lightly and not heavy handed, even in times of turmoil and differences. I like the use of ‘wash’ given to paint the stories in a less darkened way. I could picture how I would take my brush to a story and maybe tone it down a bit. Great post, Luanne!

    • The way you described this book made me really appreciate the techniques of writing, including the way you explained “Deep in the Heart.”

    • Luanne

      Yes, I think this “washing” can be done to great effect with a memoir. Another one that does this is Zippy, which I wrote about earlier. In that one, humor is enhanced and the reader forgets about the dark side of what is so funny.
      I love that idea of learning about people in a ground roots way. Yes, exactly!!!

  13. The structure of her memoir sounds very intriguing, as does her own story. Thanks for the review, Luanne!

  14. Pingback: Go, Read, Enjoy!!! | Writer Site

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