Broadman & Holman
Susan Oliver’s Once Upon A Gulf Coast Summer is the story of an elderly woman’s reckoning with her impending death. When the main character, Josephine, is diagnosed with lung cancer at age 85, she begins having dreams, taking her back to issues she ignored throughout her life. In the book, I walked with her step by step as she dealt with each of these issues.
The book is written as a chronological diary of both Josephine and her daughter, Katy. Josephine’s ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach to life’s difficulties is revealed as the catalyst for most events in both women’s lives. Oliver’s timing of character changes between chapters is excellent. It gave a full picture of both Josephine’s feelings and motivations, and then others’ feelings and reactions to them. The most unforgettable plot twist for me was when Katy discovered the connection between her new friend, Mr. B at the assisted living community, and her own family. The way God’s presence in Mrs. B’s life enabled her to turn a disastrous situation into a plan of salvation was truly unique. I found it hard to believe this book was fiction: the characters were so real. Ms. Oliver certainly understands the complexities of her character’s specific personality types.
Katy was a very domineering daughter, sister and mother. As Josephine begins to unravel her passive tendencies throughout her life, she resists Katy’s controlling personality, as do others. Despite Josephine’s reproofs, the other women in her life manage to steer her through the treacherous waters of self-exploration and, ultimately, acceptance of herself and her life. She is able to die a peaceful death with her loved ones around her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end without a lull in it anywhere. You would think the themes of mother/daughter conflict and woman’s self-enlightenment would be overused at this point. Not so for Susan Oliver. Her personal style of telling what could easily be a mundane tale, made this book a page-turner! -- Ann Weatherford, Christian Book Previews.com
Susan Oliver says, “It takes very little for a mother and daughter to turn on each other. So much lies below the surface—hurts held for decades in clinched fists, extravagant expectations never met, and ties that bind.” Once Upon a Gulf Coast Summer is about the complex relationship between Josephine Green and her grown daughter, Katy. Issues bear down from Josephine’s troubled and rigid childhood and the enigmatic mother who was preoccupied with her own secret disappointments.
Jo and Katy continue to war with each other, especially after Jo is diagnosed with lung cancer. Jo struggles to communicate her faith with her daughter and receives help from her housekeeper, Adele, who is a devout lady of faith.
Jo and Katy work to find their redemption, both together and individually, even as flood waters threaten their home one Gulf Coast summer.