A Place Called Wiregrass

Michael Morris
RiverOak Publishing, 366 pages, $14.99

In his compelling debut novel, Michael Morris beautifully illustrates how faith and love can knit together broken lives. The story unfolds through the first-person narrative of 48-year-old Erma Lee Jacobs, a tough seamstress at a Haggar factory in Louisiana. Her daughter Suzette is in prison, and Erma Lee is raising Cher, her 13-year-old granddaughter. After Bozo, Erma Lee's abusive husband, beats her—again—Erma Lee decides she's had enough. Hoping her luck will change, she takes Cher and heads for Wiregrass, Alabama, where she finds a job as an elementary school cafeteria worker. "If life could only be so easy—to know exactly which hole to run to," she muses, watching crabs on the beach. Strapped for cash, Erma Lee picks up an additional job as a companion to the 80-year-old Claudia Tyler, who gently opens Erma Lee's eyes to her potential. Simmering underneath the main story are subthemes of racism and the church's neglect of the poor and abused.

The genius of the novel, however, is in Erma Lee's wry and often humorous internal commentary. Add to this Morris's solid pacing and strong character development, and it's a significant addition to contemporary fiction. Schneider's well-developed arguments will doubtless irritate and stimulate readers on both sides of the debate.

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