The Sweet Taste of Muscadines
reviewed by Sandra Hoover
When Abigail Bruce finds her elderly mother, Geneva Bruce, lying on the ground partially beneath the Bruce family’s old muscadine arbor, one thing is crystal clear: This time, she’s really dead.
It’s time for Abigail to call siblings Lila Breedlove and Henry Bruce back to their ancestral home in Wesleyan, Georgia – the home the two fled upon graduation from high school in an effort to escape the high expectations and limitations of life in a small, judgmental, Southern town while seeking their own place in the world. When the three reunite, it is obvious Abigail’s losing it and on a suicide mission regarding her reputation and community standing as a proper Southern lady.
As strange revelations surface, Lila and Henry begin digging into the mystery surrounding their mother’s death. Why would the devoutly devoted, bible-carrying Southern matriarch leave her home in the wee morning hours, wearing nothing but her nightgown, to traipse to the far edge of the property and dig under a muscadine arbor… with an old spoon that was stored in the gardening shed? What Lila and Henry discover leads them to Scotland seeking answers to newly unearthed family secrets that threaten to destroy their family history and life as they know it.
The Sweet Taste of Muscadines flows easily from a humorous spoof on Southern culture in the first half to an emotionally charged exploration into the depth and consequences of Southern family traditions and expectations in the second half. It speaks gracefully of the ramifications of unresolved childhood issues, of growing up with impossible expectations, of denying one’s true self. Terry flawlessly weaves plot, setting and characters into a mysterious yet beautifully rich story with all the distinctive Southern flavors of hot apple pie, muscadine wine, and sweet iced tea, rendering a sensual exploration of the South during the period of the Vietnam War. This setting highlights the overwhelming sense of place felt by Southerners – of binding ties and roots buried deep in Southern soil.
In a distinctly Southern voice, Terry’s lyrical prose carries hints of honeysuckle on a warm breeze and Sunday morning sermons heard through open doors and windows at the local Baptist Church. Having lived my entire life in the South, I can say it stirred some childhood memories as I found the exaggerations on the Southern culture quite entertaining.
The Sweet Taste of Muscadines delves beneath the surface humor to reveal an emotionally evocative story that resonates with unresolved childhood memories, societal judgement, and lost dreams. The author’s rendering of this story is rich in poignant quotes, but this one stuck with me: “So much hurt in the world, and for so many years. All over who people love.”
Many will call The Sweet Taste of Muscadines “women’s fiction,” but this profound story’s also a fascinating mystery – a story of secrets kept buried until death by a proud Southern woman – and the compelling journey of her children as they seek answers that will lead them out of the darkness into the light. A story of the many ties and complexities of home and family. Ultimately, a warm story of forgiveness and acceptance. I highly recommend it to fans of mystery, family drama, and yes, women’s fiction.