Local author Joan Medlicott is both a prolific writer and promoter (through her fiction) of Western N.C. Her latest book, Promises of Change (due to be released in January, 2009) is no exception. The newest installment in Medlicott’s Covington Chronicles returns readers to the fold of Grace Singleton, Hannah Parrish and Amelia Declose—three friends of a certain age who share a farm house near Weaverville, N.C.
Change is part romance, partly about life in a small town, and part the misadventures of aging characters who face family drama, crazy neighbors, and the prospect of retirement while also dealing with arthritis pain and bad knees. And it’s wonderful to come across a realistic and honest portrayal of the aging process within the structure of fiction—such topics are all too rare on bookshelves. But, while Medlicott expertly executes the creaking bones and meager pensions of her characters, Change is a work of flawed beauty.
The book—which ultimately does stand on its own—might be initially confusing for a reader unfamiliar with the previous seven Covington installments. Change offers little in the way of background, jumping in mid-stream and full-throttle. Change also suffers from character overload: Each of the three main ladies comes with her own entourage of family and friends, and those lesser characters represent sub-plots and meandering asides. Hannah’s unconventional marriage to Max is overshadowed by the return of Max’s prodigal son, Zack, with a pregnant wife in tow. Said wife (Sarina) is from India, where her family remains in peril during a war. Sarina is overwhelmed by this, new motherhood, and Zack’s moodily inconsistent behavior. As Max attempts to help his son—despite a historically strained relationship—Max’s longtime employee Jose is talking about leaving Max’s dairy operation to open a restaurant with a cousin. Meanwhile, a local man, recently back from the Iraq war, exhibits the erratic signs of PSD while a stranger is making the rounds, scamming elderly women out of social security checks. And there’s the matter of middle aged May who has a crush on pastor Denny… and really, that’s just the half of it.
Change also suffers from an overdoes of local flavor, from the frequent dropping of place names (the bakery, the cafe, the hospital) to the overuse of regional dialect and immigrant-speak. When read for more than a few minutes at a time, the book takes on a chaotic din of people, places and melodrama.
Still, Medlicott shows her talent for drawing readers in and crafting an engaging world. To witness familiar landscapes come to life on the page is always a thrill, and the saucy Covington heroines are refreshing and compelling. While Change is unlikely to land in the literary canon, it is a fun escape and sure to please Medlicott’s fan base.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter