On Account of Conspicuous Women
In 1919, Richmond debutante Ina Fitzhugh, widowed after just a few days of marriage, decides to make a change and take a teaching job in the small town of Roxboro, North Carolina, “the Courteous City.” There, she meets three other young, unmarried women: Beatrice “Bertie” Daye, who’s campaigning to get women the vote and who’s the only woman in the county with a Model T; Guerine Loftis, Bertie’s stylish cousin, who’s just had her hair bobbed; and Bertie’s friend Doodle Shuford, who tends geese on her family’s farm and harbors literary aspirations. Over the next year or so, the four friends’ lives will take some astonishing turns.
I confess that my heart sank when I saw that Shamp has an M.F.A. in creative writing, because I’ve seen too many literary novels by writing-school graduates written to dazzle one’s fellow students with one’s genius rather than to do something as plebian as please the common reader. I’m glad to say that my misgivings were for naught. This first novel is a wonderfully humorous, humane tale of small-town Southern life in a rapidly changing nation, yet it’s a story that doesn’t sentimentalize its setting or skirt ugly issues such as poverty and racism. Shamp’s characters are vivid, original, and entirely believable. The writing sparkles—there’s a quotable bit on nearly every other page, even in the “Note to the Reader” section. On Account of Conspicuous Women is conspicuously delightful.