A REVIEW OF
by Eileen Saint Lauren
Eileen Saint Lauren Books
Hardback, 316 pages
Eccentric characters, love, faith abound in fictional Goodlife, Mississippi
By Susan O’Bryan
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Somewhere along my adventures as an avid reader, I heard that the best authors put at least a bit of themselves into their writings. This must be true because Eileen Saint Lauren has done just that with “Goodlife, Mississippi.”
Her name may be familiar to many considering she’s a Hattiesburg native and former Petal resident.
Saint Lauren has long been fascinated with writing—the process, the words and the experiences that writing is built upon. Whether writing feature stories for the Hattiesburg American, being a commentator for Nebraska Public Radio or mentoring the next generation of writers, she’s devoted to storytelling and sharing experiences.
She uses her skills to tell the story of a young girl in fictional Goodlife, Mississippi, a girl who was raised in poverty but surrounded by dreams, love, faith and eccentric characters. Mary “Myra” Boone, the biracial daughter of a deaf moonshiner and a woman who chose love over social standing. She tells her story in often long-winded, free-flowing thoughts and memories as only a teenager can.
The Boones have little to their names, except for a love of storytelling and music. Whether it’s through her dad’s stories about knowing Ray Charles in his younger years or her mother’s zeal for religion, the radio and singing, Myra is a product of her upbringing. It’s a hard life, but it’s one of love, faith and imagination.
Myra is a determined girl. She dreams of meeting Ray Charles for herself, prays for her daddy’s healing and learns to find her way among the prejudices and poverty of the Piney Woods in the 1950s and ‘60s. There’s not a mean-spirited bone in this child, despite the hardships she suffers — and overcomes. She’s a child at heart, but an old, picked-on and beaten-up soul in spirit. Her life wasn’t easy, but she was never alone, thanks to her faith in God and a better world.
The girl’s experiences are her own, but readers will wonder how much they reflect the author’s own growth as a daughter of the Magnolia State. How can you write about revivals, ice-cold Frostie root beers, Great Aunt Annabelle and Goodlife if you haven’t experienced a similar life? You can’t make up these people and their surroundings unless you’ve met them and been there. The characters and events in Saint Lauren’s novel may be fiction, but it’s a story that “feels” like home and “reads” like an adventure.
The author’s writing style is so relatable! Whether she’s writing about Magnolia Sunday, Kitty Momma or Myra herself, Saint Lauren speaks from the heart, feels from inside and shares from the soul. And as we say in the South, “bless her heart!” You can expect to hear more about life in Goodlife when the author publishes “My Neighbors,” a collection of short stories, due out next year.
Saint Lauren will talk about and sign “Goodlife, Mississippi” Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Ridgeland from noon to 3 p.m. and again Saturday, February 18 at the Barnes & Noble in Gulfport from Noon to 3 p.m.
Susan O’Bryan, a retired Clarion-Ledger newspaper editor, is a web content editor for Indeed. She is an avid reader who enjoys discovering new writers, plots and angles for fiction and non-fiction publications.