Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cold Sassy Tree is the story of Will Tweedy, a young man growing up in a rural Georgia town in the early 1900's. There is an emphasis on his relationship with his grandfather, who is the owner of the general store and a very important person in the town of Cold Sassy.
Olive Ann Burns's writing is clear and sharp with a simple style that makes its own comments about the simple lifestyle of those years. To me it had the feel of a Zane Grey novel.
The story kept me turning the pages, especially toward the end. But it was Burns's handling of bigotry that most intrigued me. It felt as if it was a very accurate portrayal of life in the rural south during that time. There were African Americans in Cold Sassy, but for the most part they were ignored by the whites. They were the cleaning ladies, cooks, and helping hands who were always available to help, but never asked for opinions. I felt as if there was an entirely different society existing in that town, one the readers don't get to see. That was one type of bigotry.
The other example of bigotry came in the relationship between members of the town's society and the mill workers (Lint Heads). The mill workers were poor and often dirty. Burns had one of her characters point out that they were dirty because they couldn't afford bathrooms the way the townspeople could. Will has a relationship with Lightfoot McLendon, a mill girl, and gets caught kissing her. He keeps saying he wants to go back to see her and talk to her, but the reactions of his family along with his own prejudices seem to be too much for him.
Will's grandfather is the only one who seems to be brave enough to set his own rules to live by. This is true in his personal life as well as in the way he deals with the mill workers. It is wonderful to see him through Will's eyes.
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