This novel is situated in the fictional town of Cold Sassy, Georgia. It is told from the view-point of 14 year old Willis Tweedy. Will lives with his father Hoyt Tweedy and mother Mary Willis. Mary Willis’s younger sister Loma, her husband Campbell Williams, and son Campbell Junior also live in the small town. Will’s grandfather, Mary Willis’s father, Enoch Rucker Blakeslee owns Cold Sassy’s large general store and Hoyt and Campbell work for him. When Rucker’s wife Mattie Lou dies, he decides to marry pretty, much younger milliner Love Simpson, within 3 weeks of his wife’s death. The town is scandalized as is Rucker’s family, but nothing can move the man himself; he needs a housekeeper and it’d be cheaper to take a wife.
Spirited, feisty and fashionable Love Simpson becomes a part of the family but is snubbed by them and the townspeople for taking saintly Mattie Lou’s place. This is the Deep South and Love Simpson, hailing from Baltimore, is almost a Yankee; popular conservative opinion deems her a gold-digger and a bold one at that. Mary Willis and Loma hate her and worry that she will spirit away their inheritance. Only Will, who goes over to his grand-father’s house often to help with chores, thinks her nice and understands that she means well. The novel moves along at a good place after these turn of events to tell us more about the Blakeslee and Tweedy clans and their lives in the small, rumor-mill-of-a-town.
This book was published in 1984, but tells of the early 1900s. When it begins, it is 1906 and Ms. Mattie Lou has just died. Most townspeople already have electricity and indoor plumbing, save Rucker Blakeslee, whose household still uses old-fashioned lamps and privies. Phones are still new, and are described by Rucker as a fidgety contraption. Cars haven’t made it to sleepy Cold Sassy yet, so when Hoyt Tweedy buys a Cadillac, it is the talk of the town.
Strong-willed Rucker Blakeslee is the uncrowned king of Cold Sassy. We get to hear of him from Will’s point of view – a mixture of admiration and adoration for his young-at-heart, lively grandfather. Narrator Tom Parker does a fantastic job of giving voice to Cold Sassy’s characters. He modulates his voice slightly differently for Will Tweedy, Rucker, Miss Love and the other characters, and gives them distinct and recognizable personalities, Southern accent and all! This is a wonderful book, but it really came to life with such a versatile narrator.
Cold Sassy Tree is the tale of patriarch Rucker Blakeslee and his large clan. But it is also much more. Through the various incidents described in this book, Olive Ann Burns touches upon issue of class and race, societal upheaval and taboos, and the status of women at that time. The characters are colorful and warmly drawn. There is drama, anger, jealousy, death and despair, humor and love. A fabulous listen, this one is a true classic – highly recommended.