LITTLE GALE GUMBO by Erika Marks is 432 pages and TODAY is the pub date. I “met” Erika on Twitter over book talk, our shared unusual name spelling, and our shared publisher, NAL. I’ve been dying to read her book since I read the description. It turned out to be a sumptuous, original blend of flavor from New Orleans to seaside Maine that kept me turning pages long into the night.
The novel’s roots are set in New Orleans in 1977 when a street-smart, fast-talking musician charms his way into a young Creole girl’s heart. The two marry and have two daughters: Dahlia and Josephine. After enduring Charles’ affairs, illegal activities, and abuse, Camille flees New Orleans with her girls to start a new life where he can’t find them.
They end up in the small town of Little Gale, Maine, and while the town regards the colorful Southern girls with suspicion, their landlord, Ben, a single father with a kind heart, accepts them into his rooms and his life. The five of them make an unusual group, but they soon come to love and trust one another, even starting a cafe on the island where Camille’s famous gumbo charms the home-towners.
Their lives, however, end up far from idyllic. Charles finds the women and upsets their lives every time he gets out of prison. His disruptions become more and more frustrating until finally, after many years pass, he turns up dead at Ben’s house, and Ben ends up in the hospital. Dahlia, Josephine, Ben’s son, Matthew, and Dahlia’s former boyfriend, Jack, come together to solve the mystery of what happened to the men, unearthing many secrets along the way.
It is such a pleasure to read the work of a fellow author I care about and respect, and enjoy it so much. Marks does an exceptional of job of creating suspense and building character in a unique setting with people I won’t soon forget. LITTLE GALE GUMBO is Shakespearean in theme with its unrequited love, misunderstandings, secrets, and mysterious death. By the end of the novel, the characters are involved in a complex web of associations with one another, and Marks does a wonderful job of revealing those secrets and connections.
For me, the real heart of this novel is Camille. With her therapeutic use of voodoo, her patience with her daughters, her wisdom in dealing with her husband, and the color she brings into the lives of her girls, her rooms, and the town, she makes those around her better. If there was a “best actress in fiction” award, it would go to Camille.
As much as I loved Camille, her daughter Dahlia frustrated and stirred me. I rooted for her in spite of her stubbornness and the walls she put up. I don’t know if I could forgive her for her big secret in the novel the way others do. I will say that I read her scenes eagerly and with a great wish to see good come to her, and was pleased with her in the end.
Because of my deeply personal connections to this novel, it moved me. This is the kind of book I finished and immediately wished I could meet with a book club to discuss. If you have a book club, I highly recommend you read LITTLE GALE GUMBO, meet with your group, and stew up Marks’ recipes for Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, and Pralines while you discuss the novel. Marks is a talented author and I look forward to more from her in the future.
For more about the author or the book, please visit her website: