by Julia Schuster
April 1st 2009 by Bell Bridge Books
Paperback, 248 pages
0982175612 (isbn13: 9780982175613)
rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley on January 8, 1935 in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi."
"I came into this world and left it on the same day."
Set against the backdrop of the 1960s South, Flowers for Elvis tells the story of fraternal twin girls. One of the babies, Olivia, dies immediately after being born. Meanwhile, her sister continues to be raised as the twin sister of her cousin, born three days later. Olivia's spirit, however, lingers, observing with a wry fondness the twists and turns of her sister's turbulent life.
Though Schuster's Catholic tendencies (which tend to be traditional, somewhat conservative, but not fundamentalist) are obvious, she uses them honestly in her perception of Olivia's story, rather than a tool with which to preach to the audience. Because the first chapters are about Olivia's birth and death and encounter with the Mother Superior who buries her, I worried a little about getting through the rest of the book. I stumbled, a bit, over Olivia's brief encounters with God and the capitalized pronoun "He," since that doesn't reflect my own theology nor a common use in progressive churches. I'm not sure whether Schuster's trying to capture the time period of the modernist church or just mirroring her own beliefs (she's a religion teacher in Memphis, TN.)
The good news is, things markedly improve once the awkward introductions have been made. I marked the page in this book where my interest was finally captured. Page 38. It takes Schuster, a fellow former Louisville-ian, that long to get into an otherwise strange and charming tale. Willard and Genevieve, Anna Beth and Louisa evoke the Practical Magic sisters or the women from Fried Green Tomatoes. They are strong, flawed characters, loving and willful and impatient and wise.
By the end of Flowers for Elvis, I was captivated by this story. It helps that there's a twist I didn't expect - it's hard to surprise me - and an ending that might be one of the most perfect (in that same strange, charming way) endings I've ever read.
Many thanks to Bell Bridge Books for a review copy of this title.
View all my reviews.