Friday, September 20, 2013

Contemporary Fiction: The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

Edward Kelsey Moore's The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat was one of those books I found in the new releases section of Half Price Books and decided to take a chance on. There is always a risk in picking a book that way, but it has been proven fairly fruitful for me in the past, and thankfully, this time wasn't any different.

The Situation: Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean were nicknamed "The Supremes" one night in the summer before their senior year of high school when they showed up together at Big Earl's All-You-Can-Eat. Round and resolved Odette is always a little more willing to speak her mind than she should be - a trait that her best friend Clarice will not grow to appreciate until later in life. The beautiful but tragic Barbara Jean is doing everything she can not to end up like her mother, who died when she was a young girl due to her alcoholism. And uppity Clarice just wants to live her life and marry the local football star, but can only go out on a date with him if she takes Odette with her. The three of them agree on the All-You-Can-Eat as their regular hang out place, and Big Earl even gives them a regular table. Over the next 40 years it would be the place they would meet up at after church on Sunday for good food and the latest gossip. 

The Problem: The next 40 years would come with plenty of trials and hardships for all three of the Supremes. While Odette has been blessed with a wonderful husband who loves her and three children who have grown up and moved off into lives of their own, she is about to enter into the hardest battle of her life when she is diagnosed with cancer. Also, it appears she has inherited more from her mother than her solid frame, and not all inheritances are welcome. Clarice, once praised across the city of Plainview, and beyond, for her piano playing has long given up her musical dreams only to tolerate being married to a washed-up football star who is also a serial cheater, and everyone knows it. And it seems Barbara Jean is destined to be the local expert on grief as she must now deal with the passing of her husband, even though she still has not gotten over losing her young son over two decades ago. As much as the Supremes have already been through, it's clear that there is still much more to come. And even with the new challenges presenting themselves, it doesn't seem like the issues of the past are done creating their own havoc either. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that centers around the lives of three black women in that small city of Plainview. While most of the action takes place in 2005, there are many stories and flashbacks that go back as far as the 1960s, when the Supremes first got together. While the story deals with issues such as love, loss, grief, and pain, Moore also throws in the issue of generational sin, and how the desire to not end up like your parents can sometimes lead to exactly that, and the Supremes never see it coming. But even though they often feel like their lives are out of control and that they have no one to watch out for them, throughout all of their years together they not only have each other, but Big Earl always managed to keep an out of for them and anyone else who ever came through the doors of his All-You-Can-Eat. 

Also, the narrative voice of the story shifts between Odette and an omniscient narrator. It is Odette who starts the story off, maybe because she has the ability to see things that no one else can, but most of the chapters actually belong to a third person. It was a little confusing in the beginning but after the first 50 pages or so I was able to get the hang of it.

My Verdict: Anyone who has grown up having strong female figures in their life will appreciate this book. It reminds me of sitting at the grown-up table during holidays or family dinners and being able to hear the stories told about growing up during the 60s and 70s, as well as the gossip about what those childhood friends are doing now. Moore portrays three black woman who are strong, but also incredibly vulnerable and susceptible to being hurt. The book is both funny and sad as Moore portrays a truth and honesty about these women that still shows them to be the heroes that they are. 

Favorite Moment: When Odette takes on a man twice, maybe three times, her size in an attempt to save a friend, and wins.

Favorite Character: I will definitely pick Odette as she is completely unashamed to be who she is. She is the definition of fat and happy, and makes very little effort to change that. She also knows she can be a pain in the butt to be around, but she uses her abrasiveness not only to serve her own purpose of keeping nonsense away from her, but also to helps her friends and keep them out of trouble, whether they want that help or not. She's the friend you want around at those moments when you aren't strong enough to protect yourself.

Recommended Reading: As a follow-up to this book, I will recommend Baratunde Thurston's nonfiction humor book How to Be Black. Also told with brutal honesty and fantastic wit, Thurston provides a look into being black in America, using his own experience as a young black man who grew up Washington, DC during the 1980s. I think the two books read together would provide an interesting insight into the lives of black Americans. 

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