“Glory Road: A Novel”
Author: Lauren K. Denton
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Price: $16.99 (Softcover)
Alabama novelist Lauren Denton can now be said to have a career under way.
Her first two novels, “The Hideaway” and “Hurricane Season,” were well received, “The Hideaway” having been a USA TODAY best-seller. “Glory Road” (2019) will be followed in only a few months by “The Summer House.”
In many ways, Denton’s novels belong in the same category as those of Alabama’s Patti Callahan Henry and Cassandra King Conroy.
Deftly written, surely with female readers in mind, her fiction follows the domestic adventures, small but important, of teenagers growing up, middle-aged folk wondering if they can find love again, and more mature characters coping with the physical and mental problems of aging.
All this is present in “Glory Road.”
The road, a stretch outside fictional Perry, Alabama, 15 miles northwest of Mobile, 250 miles south of Birmingham, is unpaved dirt, red clay actually, which is sticky in winter and sends up red dust in the summer.
You might say it’s ironically named, as nothing of historical importance, great battles or scientific inventions and so on, happens there, but it is where a small group of folk are living their lives and trying to find their way forward.
Glory Road is a novel of 38 chapters, with the point of view rotating through three generations of women.
Our heroine is Jessie, who operates a small nursery, The Twig, selling plants and flowers, and is hard put to compete with bigger retailers.
In fact, each chapter begins with a quotation from a gardening advice book, each quotation amazingly relevant to the chapter that follows.
For example, Chapter 30 is headed by a quotation from Anne P. Snider’s “Finicky Flowers”:
“If you have a flower overgrowing its desired boundaries, consider containing its roots…. If the plant continues to overgrow despite your attempts at control, be aware that it may just need extra legroom.”
Chapter 30, in the voice of the teenager Evan, is about her desire to “stretch and push and press,” to try new things.
I have learned that many of these quotations Denton made up, in much the same way as George Saunders did for his masterpiece, “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
I think this is one, and I applaud her for adding yet another layer of fiction!
Jessie’s mother Gus, Augusta, shows early signs of dementia and is being courted by a faithful old swain, Harvis Rainwater, which makes her doubly anxious.
Jessie had been married to Chris, a prominent dentist, if one may be such, in Birmingham. They had a nice house and dinners at THE CLUB, but Chris took up with his hygienist, Tiffani (that’s Tiffani, ending with an “i”), and Jessie, heartbroken, moved home to Perry 10 years ago.
As Jessie puts it: “I went through some hard things because of my desire to be someone else.” She and Gus are good country people.
She worries that her 14-year-old daughter Evan, about to start her freshman year at Perry High, will make the same mistakes she made. Jessie had been restless, uncertain, and so eager to be popular, she even became a cheerleader.
Evan, more mature than her mother thinks, wears T-shirts from old rock bands, and eschews cheerleading. However, she has a teenager’s urge to “do things she wasn’t supposed to do just to see what would happen.…She wanted to test her own limits and blast everything wide open.”
That summer she drinks some pink mystery punch at a pasture party with some older kids, and gets good and sick. No real harm done.
Evan of course thinks her mom at 39 is far too old to think about dating.
But of course, romance, temptation, the promise of love, are the backbone of novels like this.
Jessie is hired by the wealthy, elegant, sophisticated, widowed and very nice Sumner Tate to serve as florist for his daughter’s wedding at their grand house on Dog River, 45 minutes away in Baldwin County.
And, to complicate matters, Ben Bradley moves back, in a cloud of red dust, after some 15 years away, with his handsome son, Nick, about to be a senior, to his parents’ house only a mile away.
Ben and Jessie should have connected, married, back then. The question now is, is it too late for them and what about the very nice Sumner Tate, who seems to be modelled after Robert Trent Jones? He designs golf courses all over the south.
Will Jessie marry Ben or Sumner or nobody? Will Gus take a chance on love? Will Evan date Nick?
“Glory Road” is not an existential treatise, but each character must choose or choose not to choose.
Such is life.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.