Summer In Mossy Creek
by Sandra Chastain, Debra Dixon, Martha Shields, Carolyn McSparren, Anne Bishop, Susan Goggins, Bo Sebastian, Kim Brock, Shelly Gail Morris, Judy Klein, Patti Callahan Henry, and Deborah Smith; contemporary (2004)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-19679-8


It is a nice surprise to discover that Mossy Creek, the lovely Southern smalltown created by the founding authors of BelleBooks, isn't that nauseatingly saccharine townie-hating gun-totting Stars Hollow like I tremblingly imagine it to be. By the last page of Summer In Mossy Creek, I'm a convert. I still don't want to live in a place where gossip is considered acceptable and even fun (the local paper has a gossip column detailing the private lives of the townsfolks, how lovely) but I seriously won't mind another quick visit to Mossy Creek.

Debra Dixon's Amos And Dog is an introduction to Mossy Creek and its inhabitants through the eyes of the Chief of Police and town hunk Amos Royden. This story has lots of charm and succeeds very well in bringing out the fact that Mossy Creek has the best of everything. Unfortunately, the author's male voice isn't too convincing and the subplots about Amos getting a dog and saving a kid from his abusive father seem like afterthoughts to the roster call taking place in the story.

Martha Shields' Opal And The Suggs Sisters is a story about Opal Suggs, a lonely woman who has outlived her sisters (whose ghosts she talks to daily) and at close to eighty, she thinks that she has no reason to live. Fate drops three children onto her laps and it's happy-time fun, smalltown-style, where all you need to be happy is to have ghostly sisters to tell you who will win at this weekend's races and some children to take care off when your eyesight is going, you are eighty, but what the heck, they'll let you adopt those kids anyway because... er, just because, I guess.

Sandra Chastain tells the story of two feuding grannies who finally make amends just before they move to share the same room in the nursing home. Good timing is everywhere in Mamie And Grace, a quaint and colorful story of squabbling dotty old ladies marred by a too-convenient resolution to the feud. Judy Klein's Sadie And Etta is a story I just cannot get into - a local Creekite calling her best friend over so that she can matchmake this friend to her husband while she herself is dying. Even if I'm dying, I can't imagine asking a friend to marry my husband. Maybe it's just me. But this story is too much like some Jerry Springer goes to Everwood fantasy for me.

Susan Goggins' Lucy Belle And Inez as fortysomething Lucy Belle help her cantankerous never-say-die grandmother crash the home of the snobbish mother of the Governor of Georgia to finish off a long feud involving hot pepper seeds. This is a fun story but the heroine's abrupt transformation from mousy woman to a desperate-for-gran's-love creature is one that I find unbelievable and hence ruins my mood a little. Kim Brock's Therese And The Stroud Women is meant to be one of those cute stories told from a ten-year old's point-of-view, but Therese doesn't sound ten in her first-person narration and the story becomes overwhelmingly preachy about love towards the end. It's a Hallmark card rather than a story. Patti Callahan Henry's story about two silly women reuniting after clearing up some bitterness about a love triangle in their past, Sara-Beth And Carolee is quite forgettable, as is Shelly Gail Morris' Emma And Aurrie because they don't really have much to tell as much as a message to preach.

It is the stories that deviate from Pleasantville fantasies that make the biggest impact on me. I really like Carolyn McSparren's Louise And Jack, where a funeral reunites briefly two people who are in love but have never a chance to act on it because she's white and he's African American. This story is short, bittersweet, but it packs a punch nonetheless at all the right places. Bo Sebastian's Lila And Fryzeen is a sometimes amusing, sometimes painful story about a woman who is so worked up about beating a rival in the annual pickled beet competition that she nearly forgets what really matters in life. I find this story most enjoyable because Lila, the self-absorbed woman, has just the right amount of softness to balance her less likeable traits and her epiphany rings real.

Anne Bishop's Laurie And Tweedle-Dee is a sentimental story of a dying woman who finds strength to live out her dreams in Mossy Creek. I tried to resist because the amount of sugar in this story is quite nauseating, but in the end, I have to get a tissue to blow my nose. This one is like a good Hallmark movie: it reeks of manipulative schmaltz but it's so nice to indulge nonetheless.

Deborah Smith closes the story with Hope And Marle. I don't know, this story feels like a watered down rehash of Sweet Hush, only this time it is the mayor Ida Hamilton Walker that plays the role of the indomitable matriach. Apple-orchard owner heroine Hope Bailey Stanton is reunited with Marle Settles, once an apple-picker at Sweet Hope Orchards in Bailey Mill just outside Mossy Creek. Their love was thwarted twenty-odd years ago when Marle's no-good brother indirectly caused the death of Ida's husband Jeb and Marle left town because the Settles were no longer welcome in Mossy Creek. Now he's back. What will everyone in Mossy Creek do now?

Even if this is a watered down rehash of the author's better full-length works, Hope And Marle packs the most powerful punch, although the love story between Jeb and Ida and the relationship between Marle and the people of Mossy Creek are more powerful than the love story between Marle and Hope. Marle is a tedious martyr with Hope, but with Rob Hamilton, Jeb's son, and when confronted with his memories of Jeb, a man he idolized as a hero, Marle becomes a sympathetic figure for redemption. Ms Smith also creates a more vivid picture of life in Mossy Creek better than author authors in this anthology. All in all, it's a very enjoyable story that leaves me in tears by the last page. In the hands of other authors, the symbolisms involving water, the sky, and apples can be too corny - Hope's married name will be Sweet Hope Settles, and I dare anyone to tell me that that isn't corny at all - but Ms Smith makes everything work. Maybe I should just think of this novella as an appetizer for the author's better full-length works.

Oh, and readers may be surprised when Marle says that the founder of Mossy Creek, the Confederate General Hamilton, fought for the wrong side.

At the end of the day, this anthology is a pleasant escape into a pleasant fictitious corner of life. But it is thanks to authors like Deborah Smith and Anne Bishop that Mossy Creek is also a place where hope, love, and strength clash with and sometimes triumph over any adversity life tosses our main characters' way. It is their stories that elevate this anthology from being mere escapist fluff into something more substantial to warm the heart. Now, when will I get to read Ida And Amos, hmm?

Rating: 80


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