Books

Reading Corner | Miss Julia takes a backseat to Etta Mae

“Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day,” by Ann B. Ross.
“Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day,” by Ann B. Ross. Courtesy image

Ann B. Ross, known for her “Miss Julia” novels, turns the tables on her famous character and has Etta Mae Wiggins take center stage in “Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day.” These two women are as far apart in temperament as Melanie Hamilton is from Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Add age, physical attraction, wealth and sophistication to the duo, and readers chuckle and nod with understanding.

Throughout the book, Ross presents contrasts between the haves and the have-nots, and the characters project their perceptions of each group. With a reputation for being a “loose” woman, Etta Mae is determined to improve her image. She lives in a single-wide trailer at Hillandale Trailer Park, which Miss Julia Springer owns, but Etta Mae is proud to have earned her certified nursing assistant credentials. She has a job at Lurline Corn’s Handy Home Helpers, and in this capacity, she provides care for widowed, rich, elderly, wheelchair-bound Howard Connard, Senior, who lives in a mansion. Twice-married and divorced and not yet 30 years old, Etta Mae has her sights set on marrying Howard Connard, Senior.

As she says in Chapter 1, “Regardless of where you live – trailer or mansion or somewhere in between – and regardless of what Granny says, names do count.”

She believes by marrying Mr. Howard, she will raise her status in life, and everyone will treat her accordingly. “What it was that I deep-down wanted was a name that people would have to respect,” she says.

To show how Etta Mae doesn’t get respect, Ross weaves examples throughout the story. When Etta Mae calls Miss Julia to complain about dogs strewing garbage on her property, Miss Julia reminds her that it’s her responsibility to keep her space neat and clean. “If Mrs. Howard Connard, Senior, had called with a complaint, that woman would’ve fallen all over herself to straighten it out,” Etta Mae says.

Complications continue to arise for Etta Mae. Her first mistake was telling Lurline her intention to marry Mr. Howard. Lurline contacts Howard Connard, Junior, who, of course, wants to thwart the plan. Etta Mae will not be deterred, and she sets out to prove she can achieve her goal without Junior’s consent.

Another obstacle that comes into play is that Etta Mae’s first ex-husband, Skip Taggert, wants to hide out at her place. He explains that he’s running from Roy and Harley Puckett, known troublemakers, because of a legitimate business deal he made that went sour for the Pucketts.

The hide-and-seek competition begins, Junior gets involved, but Skip manages to help Etta Mae work toward her goal. When Emmett, the long-time servant for the Connards, tells Etta Mae he is at her service, she is overwhelmed. “I stared at him, as I began to realize that Emmett was doing exactly what I’d wanted from this marriage … He was giving me the respect that was supposed to come with my new name, and the realization of it lifted my head and straightened my shoulders.”

The contrasts Ross creates are priceless. In one scene, Etta Mae gets into her chenille robe, inspects her Barbie doll collection and is proud of her newly upholstered floral couch, which is coordinated with her burnt orange shag carpet. At Mr. Howard’s home, the Oriental carpet silences the sound of her high heels, and Emmett explains the difference between candle holders and the candelabra, and how the silver service, punch bowl and ladle are used.

Readers understand the dynamics expressed in the book, and Etta Mae finally realizes it, too. At the end of the book, when the married, licentious Deputy Clyde Maybry says, “Don’t matter what your name is, Etta Mae. I know who you are,” she thinks, “So if [the Connard name] didn’t put me above trash like [Clyde], what was I doing with it?”

This is a five-star novel that keeps readers turning the pages.

Jo Ann Mathews, For The Sun News

Charleston’s YALLFest set for November

YALLFest, a festival for children’s and young adult literature in Charleston, will celebrate its fifth anniversary Nov. 13-14 with its most star-studded author list yet.

The opening keynote will be given by No. 1 New York Times best-seller Richelle Mead (”Vampire Academy” series), along with legendary children’s book author R.L. Stine (”Goosebumps” series), who has sold more than 40 million books. The closing keynote will be given by dual No. 1 New York Times best-sellers Brandon Mull (”Fablehave” series) and Brandon Sanderson (“Mistborn” series); Sanderson is also known for completing Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series.

YALLFest’s mission is to improve literacy through great young adult literature and includes an outreach program that puts visiting authors in local schools to connect directly with young readers and spread their love of word and books.

For more information, call 843-209-3736 or visit www.yallfest.org.

If you have book- or author-related news, email features@thesunnews.com. Items and reviews run on a space-available basis.

At a glance

Title | “Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day”

Author | Ann B. Ross

Publisher | Penguin Books

Length | 308 pages

Cost | $16

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