Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mattaponi Queen

Mattaponi QueenLast week through a Library of Virginia email I learned of a new book, Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs. It is a prize winning collection of short stories set mainly along Virginia's Mattaponi River that separates King William and King and Queen counties. On its banks in Walkerton I lived for four years in the 1970s. I was intrigued.

King William County is my Edwards family's ancestral home, at least 10 generations and over 300 years worth of family history. It is also the focus of the book(s) I am writing. With so little in print about the area I immediately ordered a copy from Amazon and googled the author. It only got better.

Not only did the author live in Walkerton for a while - her parents still do - she attended King William High School where I worked for five years. Further, she currently lives in North Carolina about an hour north of here and her day job is a school teacher. That resonated. And she was beginning her tour of bookstores, giving readings and passing out promotional homemade jams, jellies, preserves, and pickles. Maybe it was the canned goods that sent me over the top, but I just had to meet her last Sunday when she was to talk in Charlotte. I sent her a quick email of self-introduction, told her I too had lived in Walkerton and was writing about King William. She graciously replied, agreeing to meet with me after her presentation.

After a very pleasant and well-attended reading we talked over a late lunch about King William, people and places we had in common, and writing. I came away from the time we spent together with admiration for her maturity which belies her age and the slightly disconcerting feeling that, although taking different paths, we still were on the same trip. We parted agreeing to stay in touch and assist each other in our writing. I was thrilled. At last someone else who cares to write about a place I love. What I had not done was read her stories.

Our UPS driver delivered the book two days ago and I read the first story I found when I thumbed open the book, Homecoming.

I have not a clue what readers who have never lived between the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers imagine as they read Belle's work. Literary types certainly appreciate her skilled writing.
“Strongly imagined, finely controlled and well-crafted. These stories are good because they are true, true in that way that only good fiction can be,"
wrote Percival Everrett, the fiction judge who awarded the work the 2009 Katharine Bakeless Nason Publication Prize for Fiction.

But for me her stories, especially Homecoming, sliced all the way to the bone. I was quickly back among my people, back along the banks of the Mattaponi, for better or worse, back at my high school. Belle Boggs has been paying attention and she gets it right. At her age I could have never written Mattaponi Queen, less because I lacked the writing chops than because I did not have her sensitivity, vision, and her understanding of that rich, multi-layered community we lived in. I hope I sound a bit blown away. I am.

I have not finished the book. I found I must set it aside after reading a story. Like fine whiskey or a rich chocolate cake it is best savored in small amounts, the characters and events thought about for a while. I suppose that is what good writing encourages.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a book I will definitely look for at the bookstore the next time I am in Savannah. I can't wait to see how it fits in with other Southern writers' sense of place. -- Suzanne