Cold Sassy Tree (1984)

by Olive Ann Burns

Fourteen-year-old narrator Will Tweedy takes us to 1906 small-town Georgia in this delightful novel. Will shares the starring role with his grandfather, Rucker Blakeslee, owner of the town of Cold Sassy Tree's general store. At the start the prickly Grandpa Rucker is mourning his wife, who was beloved by all. Just three weeks after the funeral, however, Rucker marries his store's milliner, the appropriately named Love Simpson, 30 years his junior.

Rucker's two daughters (one of them is Will's mother) and the rest of Cold Sassy are aghast at the lack of propriety. It hardly quells the gossip when the harassed Miss Love announces that the marriage is simply a housekeeping arrangement that she accepted in return for being willed the Blakeslee house. With the rest of the town against her, Miss Love turns for friendship to Will, who adores his grandfather. Will becomes the confidante of Miss Love, whose feelings for Rucker are becoming less platonic, and his grandfather, who talks about life, love, death, and religion with an independent mind.

On the cusp between a child's innocence and the first stirrings of sexual attraction, and unconcerned about the conventions that govern the adults, Will is the ideal observer of his grandfather's story. He also is an entertaining teller of his own exploits. Mischievous and risk-taking, Will is not above pranks like releasing rats on stage at his despised aunt's play — knowing he'll be caught and taking his punishment like a man.

Cold Sassy Tree was the first novel by a 60-year-old Southern newspaperwoman, who based the novel on her family's stories. Burns died of cancer before finishing the sequel, Leaving Cold Sassy, which was released uncompleted with her notes.


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