I read this book while living as a single woman in a small town many years ago, and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I loved the imagery, the dialogue, the authentic characters, and the fact that was a “small” story with big humanity.
“Character drives plot” was never truer than in Cold Sassy Tree. Olive Ann Burns wrote about Will, his grandfather Rucker, his grandfather’s second wife (a much younger woman he marries only three weeks after the death of his lifelong and beloved first wife) and the Mill people. There are new inventions like motorcars, and amazing escapes from near death by locomotive–which turns Will into a town celebrity. It’s a small town, pre-television
The Mill people, including Lightfoot, the girl Will has a crush on, live on the wrong side of the tracks and do the town’s dirty work. They’re not supposed to be like the rest of town, but the story incorporates some elements that the times are a’changin’. Burns does such a lovely job of drawing her characters that you feel you know them. You can see them standing in front of you, and you know how they would act if you invited them home for tea.
My friend Suzanne Richey and I were both reporters for the same small town newspaper when I read the book, and we used to laugh when covering some of the ‘smaller minded’ small town stories that we were living in Cold Sassy Tree.
Who loves whom, who marries whom, who hates whom, all rolled into a small southern town in Georgia: it’s a slow, sweet, lazy day plot that should be read under a tree eating watermelon.