Hot Fudge Sundae Blues
In Pisgah, Mississippi, in 1963, teenage Layla Jay decides to please her grandmother and “get saved.” Grandma despairs of Layla Jay’s Mama, a widow who enjoys male company just a little too much, and Mama, in turn, enjoys baiting her mother. Layla Jay walks an uneasy tightrope between the two women in her life. When her mother marries a revivalist preacher, Layla Jay gets not a father but a man with a less-than-appropriate interest in her. Marshall makes all too vivid the fear of a young girl being menaced by an authority figure, and Layla Jay’s experience with Wallace comes to a violent end.
What could have been a gently nostalgic story about quirky people in the South is actually something altogether darker. However, redemption wins out in the end. Characters are sharply drawn—loveable, irascible Pawpaw, unconventional yet maternal Mama, even the seemingly rigid Grandma—with the exception of Layla Jay, who remains enigmatic. At times guileless and at other times manipulative, she changes faces throughout the story. Nevertheless, Marshall adroitly describes this particular Southern way of life. She knows what she’s talking about.