Tuesday, May 27, 2014

'Under the Sassafras' by Hattie Mae

Under the Sassafras

Nestled between the Atchafalaya Basin and Sugar Island lies Bon Amie, a friendly, quiet town, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until Joelette Benoit’s two sons find a man washed up in the murky water at the edge of the swamp.

Joelette Benoit, a widowed single mother, has sworn to never believe the promises of another sweet talking man. Fiercely independent and determined, she’s hidden away her heart, while struggling to provide for her two sons and lively mother-in-law. She swears the stranger will stay one night, and one night only, until she discovers he has no memory. Now duty-bound to aid him, Joelette decides to offer him a place to heal in exchange for his labor.

Against the colorful backdrop of life on the bayou, she watches as he immerses himself not only in her family but also in her town. She can do little to prevent her sons from bonding with the only man they’ve come to trust since the death of their father. Though she, too, is drawn to his kindness and vulnerability, she will not risk the heart of her family because without a past, this man cannot promise a future. But when his memory returns and he realizes he has blood on his hands, he knows he has unfinished business to attend to before he can claim the family he has grown to love.


Joelette Benoit's two young sons discover an unconscious man lying on the banks of their swamp. Although life has given her many reasons to distrust men, it seems Joelette has no choice but to help this one, before the alligators get him. When he turns out to have complete amnesia, his time with them is prolonged. As he appeals to her other family members with his winning ways, she does her best to convince herself that he's not growing on her too.

Although this is a contemporary novel, it comes across as historical to me at first, in the remoteness and simplicity of the Benoit family's life. The author writes lovingly of her setting, obviously well-acquainted with it. I love nothing more than when authors highlight their own unique environments in the pages of their novels. This one is embellished with folk tales and local lore, making it a very entertaining read.

Joelette's mother-in-law, MaeMae, is a wise old character, but the two boys won me over, causing me to shed a few tears. 9-year-old T-Boy is so vulnerable, in his fixed resolve to be the man of the family, while 5-year-old Ozemae has such an open-hearted, welcoming attitude to the newcomer. Joelette herself seriously annoyed me at one stage, when she jumped to a totally hare-brained and irrational conclusion. You'll know when you get there. Given what she's grown to know about Mansir after all that's happened, what the hey? At least the heroine's occasional silliness is balanced by a hero whose decent instincts are always reliable, even in the confusion of his amnesia. I don't think he ever made one move we could disapprove of.

What struck me most about this book is the contrast of the different worlds portrayed. How amazing that such completely different existences can take place on the same planet simultaneously, and neither is superior or inferior to the other. Poor Joelette almost convinced herself that her way was backward and inferior, while we readers have been talked around to know better. You can't help taking a step back to reassess your own way of living too. At least, that's what I found.

It's the sort of novel I wish had a cook book at the back! The description of all those yummy Cajun recipes was getting me hungry. I probably wouldn't have a hope of pulling off the gumbo, jambalaya, bread puddings, cornbread, collard greens and all the seafood, but I wouldn't mind trying, they sounded that good.

4.5 stars

Under the Sassafras (A Bon Amie Novel) available from Amazon

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