Category Archives: Remmes, Brenda Bevan

Review of ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ by Brenda Bevan Remmes

When Katie Devine meets her doctor for sex in his consulting room, they are interuppted by three prurient schoolboys who have climbed a tree to watch, but manage to fall through the skylight.  This is not comedy, however.  Katie’s abusive husband, Hank, murders the doctor in his own home.  Losing her job as school administrator and therefore unable to afford to continue living in her trailer, Katie returns home to Cedar Branch, where she grew up, to live with her brother, Sam.  Hank’s truly evil brother, Ray, pursues her, alleging that Katie harmed her own teenage children and nobbling witnesses who might give evidence against Hank.  The storyline builds to stupendous climax, which lurches from crisis to resolution back to crisis, taking some astounding turns and twists, underpinned by Brenda’s thorough understanding of Quakers and their theology… but I’m not providing a spoiler.

This is Brenda’s second novel, following The Quaker Cafe.  ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ is more ambitious than ‘The Quaker Cafe’, which had overtones of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.   It’s a story about the white underclass, what Eminem called ‘trailer trash’, a sector of society that hasn’t featured in many novels I’ve read.  (I’m being careful here because I’m no expert on American literature.)  The moral compass is very broad, condoning Katie’s affair with her doctor, because she’s in an abusive relationship, and applauding her for suing his estate for professional misconduct.   On the other hand, we have the Quakers’ robust moral tone, especially regarding violence, and their stoic bravery during the crisis at the end.  I don’t think we can really call this Christian fiction.  quaker

‘Home to Cedar Branch’ involves a huge number of characters, some of whom only feature for a few pages, or even a few lines.   It’s the American custom in literature suddenly to plonk a police officer, or a bystander, into the middle of the action, with lots of details about who he is and his everyday life, then abandon them.   Some characters, like the elderly Quaker farmer, Leland Slade, are always there but only take the stage much later.   Others deserved more wordage, like Katie’s daughter, Savannah, a devout Christian who allowed her uncle to insinuate himself into her good graces by implying that her father had turned to Jesus and was innocent anyway.  Her sense of betrayal later on is under-played.  Similarly, Katie’s son, Dusty, who won’t speak to her, indeed won’t come out of his room, is too easily sorted out by good wholesome Sam and Quaker friend Ben.   The Quakers don’t appear until late in the story and this works.  I was disappointed that, out of the major characters in ‘The Quaker Cafe’, Billie had a minor role only, and Liz Hoole, the main character, was omitted altogether, even though her husband and son featured.

Another feature I enjoyed, in both ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ and ‘The Quaker Cafe’, was the way in which the American love of sport, particularly basketball, is incorporated into the lives of the characters.  Very authentic.

Although this is not a literary work, we writers have much to learn from Brenda’s writing technique, particularly her splendid descriptions of characters and their actions, like when Anna, the elderly Quaker, a ‘barrel of a woman… balanced herself by putting a hand on the end of each pew’.  This is where characters come alive.

Great stuff.  Thoroughly recommended.

I cannot find a direct, non-Amazon link to this book, but do take a look at the reviews on Brenda’s website.

By the way,  I’m on the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) More Than Writers blog tomorrow (13 September 2016).  Do drop in.  You don’t have to be an ACW member to comment.

Review of 'The Quaker Cafe' by Brenda Bevan Remmes

Liz Hoole has been living with her husband, Chase, and her family in the small community of Cedar Branch in North Carolina for thirty odd years. Although not a Quaker by birth (not a ‘Birthright Quaker’) Chase’s family is and she has been absorbed in the Quaker community and adopted much of its teaching, most particularly its egalitarian outlook.

When Judge Kendall, the father of her beloved friend, Maggie, dies, people in the white Cedar Branch community – which includes the Quakers – are startled when Maggie, a Methodist, insists on holding a funeral service jointly with the black community church. This event, which occurs about a hundred pages into the book, at first seems like just another of the many sidetracks in this storyline, but, as the novel develops, it becomes pivotal, an enormous hook into incidents which occurred years ago and which explains why there are two communities in Cedar Branch, divided along racial lines. This is not ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ light, but an unique story in its own right, well told, well put together and convincing.  And thoroughly enjoyable.

Brenda’s understanding of Quakers is thorough and insightful, and illuminating; Grandpa Hoole in his open neck shirt and Grandma Hoole in her plain grey dress with her hair pulled back, with their distinctive attitudes towards silence, on no man showing deference to another, on alcohol and sweet potatoes, at first seem like cameos. However, actually, their conflicts with modern life, with modern temptations and the way the rest of us live ours are the story.

If I were to criticise, I would point out that the story took a long time to get into its stride, with many deviations: mc setting out to seduce her husband by appearing naked in front of the television when he was watching basketball, only to find his father sitting with him; her float at the Easter Pageant going all wrong in a way which ‘you had to be there’ to appreciate as humorous. Also the title, although catchy, did not really encapsulate the story. Characters, however, were likeable, and distinctive from each other, and the reader readily gets on their side.  ‘The Quaker Café’, a first book by this author, is thoroughly recommended.

I have just studied the results from the Word Play Short Story comp 2015 and see that I’m a finalist, although I didn’t win it.  I’m very happy to be a finalist.  Time was when entering any comp was a waste of time for me.  Thank you, Writers’ Dock, Chapter SeventyNine, Sally Quilford course, Anne Rainbow’s Red Pen and all the others who have helped me along my way.   Thank you also, Patsy, and Sharon from Kishboo, who congratulated me in Tweets.  Sorry not to respond earlier but, in the last week, I started teaching again for the first time in 6 months, do marking for my previous employer and and had to pack to go on holiday in India.

So far, I’m liking India very much, and the South Indian tandoori food even more than the country itself.  When we arrived yesterday, they put garlands around our necks.  See rather bad selfie below.  In fact, that selfie is far bad that I expect lots of you to stop following straight away!

Me wearing garland in Chennai.

Me wearing garland in Chennai.

I am writing this in bed, on my iPad, in Chennai, in the dark at about 5.30am. Having not slept at all on the plane on the way over here, I woke this morning at 3.30am with a terrible headache which I still can’t shift. I blame the air conditioning, which we switched off as we walked into out room, but still, some twelve hours on, it’s effecting my sinuses. A word in the ear of all people lucky enough to live in a warm climate – make the most of it. Do not turn up air conditioning in hotel rooms so they resemble a cold English house in February. I have come away on holiday to escape the real thing.