A Room Of Her Own… and the birth of Moonrise
Hey, Out There…
Since I met Cassandra King at the Hoover Library’s Writer Conference and we decided to spend the rest of our lives together, we have written our books on opposite sides of the house. When we got married, I discovered that Sandra had never had a room of her own to write in during her entire adult life; I promised her a room with a view and all the time she needed to do her work and craft her books. She has written five novels since we met and I believe that her new book Moonrise is the best of them. It eases my soul that I share a house with a novelist of such rare and distinctive gifts.
I know it must seem like home cooking for a husband to praise his own wife’s work. But the shadow of divorce court looms over a marriage where the spouses loathe each other’s work. When Sandra hands me a completed chapter or leaves it on my pillow to read, an immense joy fills me because Sandra always hands me a complete world to cast myself adrift in. In The Sunday Wife she changed the English language. I’ve met a hundred women around the south who’ve whispered to me, “I used to be a Sunday Wife,” or “I’m still a Sunday Wife; I’m married to the Bishop.”
Nor can I read the last section of The Same Sweet Girls without breaking down at the end because I’m so touched by those amazing ties of women’s friendship. I envy the tireless intimacy of women’s friendship, its lastingness, and its unbendable strength. Cassandra captures all this as well as any writer producing literature today and I love it that our house is the source of its creation.
I was present at the birth of Moonrise. I took Cassandra to Highlands, North Carolina to visit my dear friend Jim Landon, who owned a lovely mountain home made holy by well-selected books and Asian art. Jim is one of those perfectly charming southern men who dresses with distinction, decorates his home with unerring taste, makes a perfect omelet and is one of the best lawyers in Atlanta. Cassandra fell in love with Jim immediately, as I had done when I met him in 1974. All life has more savor when Jim is around. He introduced us to his cast of immemorial friends, and hosted elegant parties on a deck that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains have a clear call for certain people and my wife was a goner for Highlands after that first week. Her novel is the product of her love affair with the high country of the south, its natives and its “summer people.”
Cassandra and I have always been devotees of Daphne du Maurier’s glorious book Rebecca. Moonrise is pure homage to that novel as well as a ballad of recognition for all the strangeness and comeliness of the mountains of North Carolina. It is told in three distinct voices. It begins with an outsider, Helen, who is brought into a group of Highland summer veterans who don’t like it that the recently widowed Emmet Justice has married a young dietician from Florida in unseemly haste. Helen is properly terrified of the upcoming summer, when every inch of her will be reviewed and judged by some practiced Atlanta swells. The second voice is a mountain woman named Willa who cleans and cares for all the houses. She has watched the whole strange Atlanta tribe grow up and they have all become attached to Willa and her family. Willa adds history and perspective to her narration in the novel. By far, my favorite voice belongs to the waspy, acid tongue of Tansy Dunwoody. I perked up whenever she took to the stage because her voice can be withering and caustic, but always hilarious and tender in the deepest part of her.
Cassandra loops these three voices into a stranglehold of tension as it becomes obvious that the legendary house of Moonrise means to bring great harm to the newcomer, Helen Honeycutt. The suspense is handled with flair and expertise and I read the book in a single reading for that most ancient of reasons… to know what happened. I couldn’t go to sleep until there was a sense of resolution over the fates of characters I had come to love at a mansion I’d come to fear.
Moonrise is a fabulous novel and my damn wife wrote it and that’s me up there near Highlands shouting it out to the hills.