Southern Culture … Old Friendships … Family Tragedy
One phone call from Renny to come home and “see about” the capricious Ava and Celia Wakefield decides to overlook her distressful past in the name of friendship.
For three reflective days at Renny’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas, the three childhood friends reunite and examine life, love, marriage, and the ties that bind, even though Celia’s personal story has yet to be healed. When the past arrives at the lake house door in the form of her old boyfriend, Celia must revisit the life she’d tried to outrun.
As her idyllic coming of age alongside her best friend, Little Tea, on her family’s ancestral grounds in bucolic Como, Mississippi unfolds, Celia realizes there is no better place to accept her own story than in this circle of friends who have remained beside her throughout the years. Theirs is a friendship that can talk any life sorrow into a comic tragedy, and now that the racial divide in the Deep South has evolved, Celia wonders if friendship can triumph over history.
Every so often you read a novel so intricately and exquisitely crafted that it reaffirms an admiration for the whole art of writing. Little Tea by Claire Fullerton (Firefly Southern Fiction) accomplishes this considerable feat with sensitivity as graceful as Southern charm. But not everything about the tradition-steeped culture of the past is as pleasant as it looks on the surface. The reader, through the intelligent and reserved perspective of protagonist Celia Wakefield, steadily discovers these alarming discrepancies while attempting to both discern the present and understand what came before. As flashbacks clarify Celia’s context, the supporting characters take on fully-fledged lives of their own, practically dancing out of hers and into their own rich narratives. The conclusion binds their stories together with some utterly satisfying twists and revelations.
Little Tea has many strong points thanks to the adept Claire Fullerton. She clearly thrives when employing her métier. Themes and motifs including illuminating the complexities of Southern culture, delving into gritty yet convincing family dynamics, examining racial tensions, wrestling with mental illnesses and addictions, and, above all, proving the tenacity of enduring love between friends, all are handled with tremendous skill yet a delicate touch that keeps the prose elegant and highly readable. Fullerton has great fun when setting the stage for a scene, painting a vivid image with lush language such as, “In the air, a vibrato of cicadas pulsed so discordantly as to be concordant, like one wall of sound that tricked the ear until I could feel its heartbeat.” As the reader jumps back and forth between the past and the present, it never feels jarring or incongruent when the author can create a sense of place this deftly. Every character is complete and complex, hiding profound secrets under their Southern guise of composure, and it is a joy to understand them better with every memory that Celia invokes.
Though gorgeously penned and sometimes as dainty as a fine cup of the title beverage, Little Tea also manages to raise profound questions and demand critical reflection upon some challenging truths. Celia’s bond with Little Tea faces many obstacles and pressures, with the ugliness of prejudice twisting an apparently compassionate cultural climate into something destructive and disturbing. Some characters have moved forward from old sins while others have not, wrenching families apart. While racism underscores the narrative, its presence doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that the characters avoid life’s other misfortunes. Marital dissatisfaction, identity crises, battles with depression and addiction, and death itself still haunt the pages of the novel. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, there is a persistent sense of hope and joy illuminating the pages; it inspires Celia, Ava, and Renny to come out of this trip with a better understanding of their lives through the lens of their friendships. Love runs deeper than hate, and that reassuring truth is the real crux of Little Tea. ~ BOOK TRIB
From the Author
The 2020 International Book Awards named Little Tea a finalist in the Women’s Fiction category. The Faulkner Society named Little Tea a finalist in the 2018 William Wisdom International Competition. The 2020 Chanticleer Reviews named Little Tea a 1st place winner in the Somerset Awards for Literary Fiction. Little Tea is the August 2020 Book selection of The Pulpwood Queens International Book Club. Little Tea is a featured book with Novel Network.