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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Southern Man by Connie Chastain

Southern Man by Connie Chastain
Publisher: Brasstown Books
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational
Length: Full (334 pages)
Heat: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 Books
Reviewed by Edelweiss

In 1983, in moss-hung Verona, Georgia, the tender and tenacious love between a hardworking man and his adoring wife is tested by sudden adversity.

At thirty-two, Troy Stevenson is a corporate vice-president and a former college football star who must confront an old family secret that underlies his nascent alcohol abuse or he may lose his wife and the son and daughter he deeply loves. When his latent destructiveness is unleashed and impacts his family, he moves to their lakeside cottage to come to grips with his personal weaknesses.

But busybodies at his company assume he moved to the cottage because his marriage is in trouble. Encouraged by the assumption, co-worker Brooke Emerson, an amoral, 1980s material girl romantically obsessed with Troy, begins to stalk him.

In Southern Man, Connie Chastain has written a novel with political bite. Her story is refreshingly written from the viewpoint of the traditional family values that made our culture the world’s envy. Her tale also grippingly exposes the underside of corporate harassment policies that have inadvertently brought misery to many innocent employees. Troy Stevenson is a corporate executive, a family man and former Alabama football star, working for a modest company in a small southern community. Patty is the wife who adores him. Max is the CEO’s son, a fellow executive and best friend since college, who sometimes seems as much a rival as close confidant. Brooke is the file clerk who becomes obsessed with Troy and the opportunity that his apparent problems at home seem to present. These and other elements converge to form an absorbing story of marriage vows under stress and of politically targeted individuals facing social and career extinction.

This is a well written story, with prose that’s concise and silky to read. The plot is intricate and covers much ground to acquaint us with a large cast of characters. The main story line sparks with rising excitement as it gathers momentum and, although the suspense is not high, the harrowing rush to the book’s conclusion is a riveting reading experience.

This novel is not without minor flaws. Proofing is an issue and mars prose that deserves better. The author gives us several scenes featuring Troy’s grade school children. The idea of including the children as significant characters is a nice touch. But this book edges into tedium with so many scenes devoted to the children--resplendent in their immaturity—as adults strive to explain the turmoil engulfing them. It makes for longwinded dialogue that bogs down the story. Another issue is Troy’s intermittent drinking problem. This emerges in the book’s first third, and it comes as a big shock because, given how the author has constructed the Troy character, it makes no sense whatsoever and only causes a sense of reader disconnect. There is simply nothing in Troy’s past background or current makeup that could logically account for this flaw. Troy goes off to work out the problem alone. But he can’t make any more sense of it than we can. In the end, he gives up and abruptly returns home, remorseful but without any more understanding than we have. The plot successfully resumes, but this is a diversion the story could have done without.

More than anything, Southern Man is a love story of refined elegance. It offers a study in how to construct a relationship to withstand some of the worst buffeting that any marriage is likely to face.