This wonderful book arrived on my doorstep Friday afternoon and I savored it all weekend, turning the last page last night just before turning out the bedside light.
I’m pretty sure the last time I got this caught up in a really well-written family saga must have been THE SHELL SEEKERS, which I read earlier this summer. An older book (which I eventually realized I’d read before, long long ago) I was so caught up in the yarn of the story, the charming characters (strong women), the smooth shifts back and forth in time, and the mysteries to be solved, it was hard to put it down. I was sad to see THE SHELL SEEKERS end.
I felt the same way about LITTLE GALE GUMBO. What a pleasure it was. Truly. I hated to turn that last page, and I’m already wondering about a possible sequel?
1. The multi-sensory experience. I could feel the bitter cold and the fog of a Maine island winter; I could smell the melting butter and sugar of every Praline; I tasted the gumbo and the red beans and rice, right down to their textures; I could hear the sisters voices so clearly – the headstrong (but underneath fragile) Dahlia, the sweetness and let’s-just-make-it-all-better heartbreak in Josie, Camille’s steady strength.
2. The complexity. The story is complex — all those romances and mysteries — but you never feel that way reading it. There were so many times when I marveled at how well this story flowed, and I especially loved how much the author trusted her reader. She knew when to give just enough information to let me figure things out for myself.
3. Time sequencing. For all of us who try to do it, we know how hard it is to make it flow naturally. Erika made me feel like she was sitting on the porch, with no notes, telling me a story. That’s how smooth it was.
4. Sense of place and real characters. I could feel what it might be like to be a girl in New Orleans, a girl sheltered from The Quarter and schooled in the arts of Creole cooking and voodoo. I wanted to be the young Camille. And the way they move to Maine (and how Maine is ‘chosen’) was so clever, but also perfectly in line with what the now-world-wise Camille would do.
5. Elements of surprise. I was pleasantly surprised many times by this story, so many secrets and happenings — which I can’t list because I don’t want to give them away! — which unfolded in unexpected ways that, after the fact, made perfect sense. It’s hard to surprise a reader who’s trying to puzzle out what’s coming, but Erika pulled it off so well.
This would be a perfect book club choice. I can see a group of women serving up the recipes in the book on a cold winter night, glasses of wine in hand, discussing the trials and pleasures of the Bergeron women. I’m a little afraid to try the Pralines, but I’d be willing to give them a shot. Plus, I’m always looking for just the right opportunity to say the word etouffee. Doesn’t that just sound delicious?