||Nov. 16, 2012
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Vera Jane Cook
Despite mayhem and murder in a small Southern town, a young woman can find paradise in the least likely places.
Life for Grace Place is all about sucking on “meat jerkys” and Lenny Bean, her handsome lover. Grace’s mother has loftier plans for her daughter. She insists that Grace save her money and move to New York City so she can find fame and fortune as an actress.
Grace works as a cleaning lady for wealthy Betty Ann Houseman so she can pool her pennies for the trip north. Betty Ann has a passion for men more pronounced than her overbite, and it isn’t long before she’s parting the sheets for Lenny Bean. But just before Grace leaves Hixson for New York City, she uncovers an insidious plot: the Bean family is trying to steal Betty Ann’s estate.
Grace flees to New York, where she faces her darkest hours. In a world of surprises, Grace truly discovers paradise.
2007 Eric Hoffer Award
2007 Notable New Fiction Indie Excellence Award
“Graves isn’t safe for a young pretty woman like you, Grace,” Jeb said, scowling at me. “Too many stray dogs looking for meat. Wouldn’t you agree, boys?”
"Uh-huh,” those two fools said, like they were Siamese twins attached at the vocal cords.
I sat there trying to think of a way out of that car and hating myself for getting in it to begin with. I watched as Jeb pulled off the two-lane route we’d been on and onto some quiet, dark road with nothing on it but night critters. We were going up a hill, and all I could see out the damn window were his headlights glaring back into my eyes.
“Get out of the car, boys…take a walk.,” Jeb sneered. He pulled to a stop in the middle of nowhere.
“No,” I said. “Don’t you two go nowhere. Take me home, Jeb!” I demanded.
I’ll never forget Joe Jack’s eyes; they were big, big as a raccoon’s.
“He won’t hurt you none,” Joe Jack said. “We’re just going up behind the trees to take a leak. We’ll be back.”
“No!” I shouted and started screaming. Those idiot boys did just as they were told and left the car and went running up into the woods. I kicked Jeb with my foot.
“Just a kiss, honey—that’s all I want.”
Jeb pulled me to him. I was wondering how hard I could bite his lip when he surprised me and sat back. He undid his belt buckle and burped. I took advantage of the longest burp I’d ever heard and leaped through that door like a deer reacting to gunshots.
“Hey, where you going?” he shouted.
It was so dark I couldn’t see two feet in front of me, but I ran like the devil. I heard his car door slam and the next thing I knew, Jeb was running after me. I paused just long enough to try and figure out what direction to go in, and in that dumb moment of reflection, Jeb grabbed me and forced me to the ground.
“Get off me, Jeb!” I hollered as I moved my head back and forth, trying to avoid his mouth. “Please stop!”
The old bastard had a wang the size of an eggplant. I could feel the damn thing hard as steel, against my leg.
I started screaming as he lifted up my dress and ripped my underwear right off my body. I felt his hand clamp down on my mouth.
“C’mon, baby,” he grunted in my ear.
I could barely breathe but somehow I managed to bring my knee up right into his stomach, just as he was lifting himself up high enough to pull his eggplant wang out from behind his zipper. The son of a bitch fell back against the truck and slid to the ground. Shit, I was stronger than I ever dreamed I could be.
“I’m going to throw up, Grace,” he mumbled. “What did you want to go and do that for?”
I could hear him puking as I jumped behind the wheel of the T-Bird and slammed the door.
Together they will discover unforgettable surprises in this Eric Hoffer Award-winning novel. Highly recommended. October 6, 2007
Dancing Backward in Paradise is the debut novel of award-winning theater actress Vera Jane Cook, about one young women's quest to find herself in "Paradise" - New York City in the 1960s, a place beset by hippies, ambition, and the turbulence of the civil rights era. At first, nineteen-year-old trailer park resident Grace Place enjoys amorous trysts with her lover, Lenny Bean, more than anything else; but urged by her mother to seek fame and fortune in New York City, she works as a cleaning lady for the wealthy Betty Ann Houseman. When her lover betrays her and seeks to steal Betty Ann's estate, Grace is shocked, yet remains intent upon fulfilling her mother's wish and seeing New York City with her best friend, Ginny Jo. Together they will discover unforgettable surprises in this Eric Hoffer Award-winning novel. Highly recommended.
I absolutely cannot recall when I read a book that I enjoyed (loved) as much as I did "Dancing Backward in Paradise," written by Vera Jane Cook. Starting with that wonderfully apt title, I became so totally involved in this story that takes place in a tailor park called "Paradise," l was so totally fascinated with the characters who lived in the town of "Holy Horrible Hixon," that I couldn't tear myself away from that crazy, mysterious, wonderful trailer park world.
My favorite characters were Miss Grace Place ( Every single time I read that name, I just giggled, wondering how the author ever came up with it.), Mama Place, and Betty Ann Houseman. Poor dear! There was such warmth and love (and a bit of lust) in all three of those characters, and Vera Jane Cook portrayed them perfectly. Then there was also Mrs. Bean talking in verse all the time. What a stroke of genius Cook's part. Oh, and I also loved Miss Dorothea.
One of the very best things about Vera Jane Cook's writing is how she magically turn words into touch -- into feelings. For example, talking about a little boy, Chelsie, "I felt him wrap himself around me like gift paper on a birthday box." And about one of the several villains in the book, "He got meaner than a bumble bee shooed off a flower." And, "She curled up there every day just as happy as a fly on buttered toast." "I felt as high and as spry as a bumblebee let loose on a sunflower.....as effervescent as champagne on New Years." And so many, many other wonderful similes.
This book is filled with delightful characters, charm, warmth, love and last, but certainly not least, wonderful humor.
In closing, I will just say that I ADORED the book, and look forward to reading many books from a superb writer.
Coming of age in the 1960s told with great characters
This book was a finalist in the Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards)
The setting is Hixson, Tennessee, in the mid-1960s, but this story could be set anywhere, with any dialect.
The story is the step beyond the "coming-of-age" period for Grace Henrietta Place, who has lived all of her life in Paradise Trailer Park with her parents and her brother. Her life has been uneventful, and she and the country are still clinging to the last remnants of their innocence. It's a small-town atmosphere where everyone knows everyone and relationships are complex, complicating and confusing. These are not genteel Southern people but earthy and unsophisticated folk who use explicit language.
Grace's mother has had one goal for her daughter--to go to New York and become an actress. For Grace, getting to New York requires much more than just saving the money to go. People and unforeseen events keep threatening her move to New York. Grace has a new boy friend, Lennie Bean, whom she finds is not only unscrupulous but may be planning a murder. She enlists the help of her mother and a new friend, Ginny Jo (who thinks she is the only lesbian in Hixson), to prevent the murder. Determined not to disappoint her mother, Grace and Ginny Jo, in a junky car with little money and a Chihuahua, leave Paradise for New York. Grace's loyalty, compassion and determination bring her into a new circle of friends in New York as she creates her new life.
The author introduces a parade of personalities that you will recognize--people that you will want to know and that you will miss. The life and richness she gives to the people of Paradise will take you in like a welcomed stranger. You will love knowing Grace, her family and her friends, both in Hixson and in New York.
Life has its tragedies, humor and mysteries, and this story has all of that. Some really good novels slip through the cracks, don't let this be one of them.
Armchair Interviews says: Dancing Backward in Paradise is a story you do not want to miss.
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