Charms for the Easy Life

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Overview

Women of grace and gumption bloom in the pages of Kaye Gibbons's fiction: The title character of Ellen Foster, her debut novel, was dubbed by Walker Percy "a southern Holden Caulfield." A Virtuous Woman prompted Reynolds Price to write, "Kaye Gibbons shows us the secret core of a love that easily outlasts death." And in A Cure for Dreams, wrote Josephine Humphreys, Gibbons "reveals how men's ways require [the] courage of women." In this, her fourth novel in six years, she gives life to her most passionate and ...
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Charms for the Easy Life

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Overview

Women of grace and gumption bloom in the pages of Kaye Gibbons's fiction: The title character of Ellen Foster, her debut novel, was dubbed by Walker Percy "a southern Holden Caulfield." A Virtuous Woman prompted Reynolds Price to write, "Kaye Gibbons shows us the secret core of a love that easily outlasts death." And in A Cure for Dreams, wrote Josephine Humphreys, Gibbons "reveals how men's ways require [the] courage of women." In this, her fourth novel in six years, she gives life to her most passionate and tough-minded women yet:. Charlie Kate, out of nineteenth-century rural North Carolina, a self-proclaimed doctor who treats everything - leprosy, malaria, even lovesick blues - with her roots and herbs, and advises the adolescent girls she "caught" at birth that "kissing's fine, nothing more than uptown shopping on downtown business." Sophia, her daughter, who has inherited her mother's singular wisdom and will, putting them in service to her desire to control the world around her and land the man of her choice. Margaret, the narrator, Charlie Kate's granddaughter, whose struggle toward adulthood is complicated by the home-front demands of World War II and whose longing to defy heredity leads her to the happy discovery that for her, too, passion is the natural and most blessed gift. Here, in Charms for the Easy Life, a timeless story of three generations of fiery women, Kaye Gibbons proves once again that, as Elizabeth Spencer has said, "she knows how to speak to our hearts."

In the verdant backwoods of North Carolina, in the sad and singular 1940s, the Birches are unique among women of their time. Charlie Kate is a self-proclaimed doctor who treats everything from leprosy to malaria with herbs and roots, much to the chagrin of her strong-willed daughter Sophia. Shy, brilliant Margaret narrates the tale, as she struggles with the homefront demands of World War II.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Charming ... delightful ... wonderfully peculiar.
Raleigh News & Observer
Dazzling ... a marvel ... a splendid achievement.
San Diego Union-Trihune
Extraordinary ... Kaye Gibbons has a voicethat will loll comfortably in a reader's mind longafter her tales have been told.
Dallas Morning News
Intelligent and extraordinary...to read this perfect novel is to feel its power as a charm against despair.
New York Times
An evocative and gracious novel...Ms. Gibbons has a natural gift for telling stories . .Charms for the Easy Life is a worthy addition to her impressive body of work.
Southern Living
A masterful job...Marvelous ... Colorful ...Engaging ... Unforgettable.
Boston Globe
Wonderfully visual...Gibbons's latest will delight fans who never askedher to change a thing, and attract new ones whoweren't heretofore at home in the rural Southof these pages ... Pull up a chair and smile.
Chicago Tribune
Charming ... delightful ... wonderfully peculiar.
Raleigh News & Observer
Dazzling ... a marvel ... a splendid achievement.
New York Times
An evocative and gracious novel...Ms. Gibbons has a natural gift for telling stories . .Charms for the Easy Life is a worthy addition to her impressive body of work.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Begining with her debut novel, Ellen Foster , Gibbons' work has been heartwarming and addictively readable. In this, her fourth novel, she creates a touching picture of female bonding and solidarity. Related with the simple, tart economy of a folktale, the narrative brims with wisdom and superstition, with Southern manners and insights into human nature. Like the heroines of Gibbons's previous novels, indomitable country doctor Charlie Kate and her daughter, Sophia, have been disappointed by men. Supported by Charlie Kate's homeopathic medical practice, which she pursues without the benefit of a degree but with the respect of the community of Raleigh, N.C., they live with Margaret, Sophia's daughter the novel's narrator, in a relatively harmonious if decidedly eccentric household. All are feminists before the word was coined; all are avid readers ``When a good book was in the house, the place fairly vibrated'' and all are capable of defying conventions when urgency dictates. Gibbons' picture of the South during the Depression and WW II is satisfyingly full of period references. But her triumph is the character of Charlie Kate: strong-minded, arbitrary and opinionated, a crusader for the underdog, and the grumpy but benign ruler of her offspring's lives. Though at times she veers dangerously toward the saccharine, Gibson rescues the fairy-tale ending with a bittersweet twist, having solidly orchestrated its inevitability. Author tour. Mar.
Library Journal
Like its predecessors, Ellen Foster LJ 4/15/87, A Virtuous Woman LJ 4/1/89, and A Cure for Dreams LJ 2/15/91, this new novel depicts three generations of Southern women living together during World War II. Unworthy men marry into this formidable tribe, but they cannot break the women's circle of strength and grace. Margaret, the narrator, gently and humorously regales readers with the adventures of her grandmother, Charlie Kate, as a respectable yet unlicensed physician. Without losing her rural sensibility, Gibbons moves from her previous country settings to Raleigh, the capital of her native North Carolina. Her characters remain quirky without being quaint. Recommended for most libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/92.-- Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671044961
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: ABRIDGED

Meet the Author

Kaye  Gibbons

Kaye Gibbons is the author of four previous novels: Ellen Foster, A Virtuous Woman, A Cure for Dreams, and Charms for the Easy Life. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and five children.

Biography

In 1987, a novel detailing the hardships and heartbreaks of a tough, witty, and resolute 11-year-old girl from North Carolina found its way into the hearts of readers all over the country. Ellen Foster was the story of its namesake, who had suffered years of tough luck and cruelty until finding her way into the home of a kind foster mother. Now, some nineteen years later, author Kaye Gibbons is finally bestowing the ultimate gift on her fans -- a continuation of Ellen's story.

As The Life All Around Me By Ellen Foster begins, Ellen is now fifteen and living in a permanent household with her new adoptive mother. However, Ellen still feels unsettled an incomplete. Due to "the surplus of living" she had "jammed" into the years leading up to this point in her life, Ellen feels as though she is deserving of early admission into Harvard University. However, when this dream does not come to be, she re-embarks on her soul-searching journey, drawing her back to those she left behind in North Carolina.

While it took Gibbons nearly two decades to return to her most-beloved character, she never truly let go of Ellen Foster, even as she was penning bestsellers and critical favorites such as A Cure For Dreams and Charms For the Easy Life. "She is like a fourth child in my house," Gibbons said in an audio interview with Barnes&Noble.com. "Ellen is really like the kid who came to spend the weekend and stayed for twenty years."

Perhaps Gibbons's close association with the little orphan is the result of her own personal connection to the character. She claims that the Ellen Foster books were "emotionally" autobiographical and helped her to come to terms with the most painful experience of her life. When Gibbons was a child, her ailing mother committed suicide -- an event that placed her on the same pathless quest for love and belonging as Ellen. The untimely death of Gibbons's mother provided much of the impetus for her to revisit Ellen in a sequel. "Before I wrote The Life All Around Me," she confides, "I wasn't obsessed by my mother's suicide, but I was angry about it... and it's something that I thought about every few minutes of the day, and I always wondered what my life would have been like had she stayed. She had extremely awful medical problems and had just had open-heart surgery, and back then we didn't know what we know now about the hormonal changes after heart surgery and the depression that's so typical after it. After I wrote The Life All Around Me, I was amazed that I didn't think about it as much as I did, and I found that I'd forgiven her and understood it."

Now that she has set some of her old demons to rest with a novel that Booklist has called "compelling and unique," Gibbons has vowed not to allow another nineteen years to pass before completing the next chapter in Ellen's story. She ensures that Ellen's adventures are just beginning and ultimately intends to tell the tale of her entire life. "I decided to recreate the life of a woman in literature," Gibbons says. "I always liked to have a big job to do... and I thought about how marvelous it would be at the end of my life to have created a free-standing woman; a walking, talking all-but-breathing person on paper." Ambitious as this project may sound, a woman who has faced the challenges that Gibbons has shall surely prove herself to be up to the task.

Good To Know

Some fun facts from our interview with Gibbons:

"I wrote A Virtuous Woman while nursing two babies simultaneously, typing with my arms wrapped around them. I turned in stained pages but never called them to anyone's attention for fear they'd be horrified."

"I got a C on an Ellen Foster paper I rewrote for a daughter's tenth-grade English class."

"Writing serious work one wants to be read and to last isn't like a hobby that can be picked up and put down, it's a lovely obsession and a very demanding joy."

"Getting involved with things that don't matter in life will get in the way of it, as they will with anything, like family and home, that do matter."

"To unwind, I watch movies and do collages with old photographs from flea markets or make jewelry with my daughter, and the best way to clear my mind is to walk around New York, where I write most of the time in a tiny studio apartment with random mice I've named Willard and Ben, though I can't tell any of those guys apart!"

"My writing is powered by Diet Coke, very cold and in a can. If Diet Coke was taken off the market, I'm afraid I'd never write again!"

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    1. Hometown:
      Raleigh, North Carolina, and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 5, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nash County, North Carolina
    1. Education:
      Attended North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1978-1983
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Already by her twentieth birthday, my grandmother was an excellent midwife, in great demand. Her black bag bulged with mysteries in vials. This occupation led her to my grandfather, whose job was operating a rope-and-barge ferry that traveled across the Pasquotank River. A heavy cable ran from shore to shore, and he pulled the cable and thus the barge carrying people, animals, everything in the world, across the river. My grandmother was a frequent passenger, going back and forth over the river to catch babies, nurse the sick, and care for the dead as well. I hear him singing as he pulls her barge. At first it may have annoyed her, but soon it was a sound she couldn't live without. She may have made up reasons to cross the river so she could hear him and see him. Think of a man content enough with quiet nights to work a river alone. Think of a man content to bathe in a river and drink from it, too. As for what he saw when he looked at my grandmother, if she looked anything like my mother's high school graduation photograph, she was dazzling, her green eyes glancing from his to the water to the shore. Between my grandmother, her green eyes and mound of black hair, and the big-cookie moon low over the Pasquotank, it must have been all my grandfather could do to deposit her on the other side of the river. Imagine what he felt when she told him her name was Clarissa Kate but she insisted on being called Charlie Kate. She probably told him that Clarissa was a spineless name.

Now, some facts of her life I have not had to half invent by dream. She and my grandfather were married by a circuit rider in 1902 and lived in a tiny cabin on thePasquotank, completely cut off from everybody but each other. My grandmother continued to nurse people who lived across the river, and soon Indian women in the vicinity came to prefer her root cures to their own. My mother was born here in 1904. She was delivered by an old Indian woman named Sophia Snow, thus her name, Sophia Snow Birch. My grandmother became hung in one of those long, deadly labors common to women of the last century. After thirty-six hours of work with little result, my grandmother decided she would labor standing, holding on to the bedpost for support, letting gravity do what it would. Sophia, however, persuaded her to be quilled, and so a measure of red pepper was blown up my grandmother's nose through the end of a feather freshly plucked from one of her many peacocks. My grandmother fell into a sneezing frenzy, and when she recovered enough to slap Sophia, she did. Sophia slapped her back, earning both my grandmother's respect and an extra dollar. Within the hour, my mother was born.

She told me she had a wild-animal sort of babyhood. She remembered the infant bliss of sunning on a pallet while her mother tended her herbs. Her parents kept sheep on free range in the yard, and my mother told me how she had stood by a caldron and soaked the wool down into indigo with a boat paddle twice as tall as she was. She said to me, "We were like Pilgrim settlers. Everything had to be done, and we did everything."

They left Pasquotank County in 1910. The suicide of Camelia, my grandmother's twin sister, made it impossible for her to stay there. They were so bound together that as small children, when they slept in the same crib, they awakened every morning each sucking the other's thumb. Grief for Camelia hounded my grandmother from the place where her family had lived for five generations. Within days after Camelia's hydrocephalic son died, his wildly sorrowful father wandered out and lay like one already dead across the railroad tracks, to be run over by the afternoon train. Camelia lost her mind immediately. My grandmother implored her sister to come stay with her, but she would not. She stayed alone in her house and handled baby clothes and wrung her hands in the clothes of her husband and baby until these clothes and she herself were shredded and unrecognizable. My grandmother would go each day and change Camelia's soiled dresses and linens while she walked all through the house naked, moaning, "Oh, my big-headed baby! Oh, the man I adored!"

Just when my grandmother was wondering how much worse things would become, Camelia developed a fixation on Teddy Roosevelt, writing love letters to the White House which were opened at the local post office and made available to anyone who wanted a good snicker. The Roosevelt fixation continued a long time, too long, as told by the fact that when Camelia's body was found, with great razor gashes at her neck, wrists, and elbows, there was a note from her idea of Mr. Roosevelt on her kitchen table. It said:

Dere Camelia,

go an git yor belovet husbendzs razer and take it to bed wit yu. it wuz a mistak the babi bean born. go be Wit him and yor belovet in paridiz.

Luv Sinserle,Theodor

Among her other personal effects, my grandmother found more than a hundred notes Camelia had written to herself from Mr. Roosevelt.

My grandfather did not want to leave Pasquotank County, but the government's decision to scrap the ferry for a modem steel bridge satisfied my grandmother's urgent need to leave. She was so relieved that her sighs all but created wind. The only decision they needed to make was where to go. Theychose Wake County because my grandfather was convinced that this was a place overflowing with gorgeous opportunities even for an illiterate barge operator. He had never been to Wake County himself, but he had ferried agreat many of what he took to be highly respectable gentlemen from there. I bet they were not. I bet he simply had no basis for comparison, and that these men were just farmers in clean clothes.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2005

    A Very Close Second...

    There is only one novel I recommend more often and with more enthusiasm --although not MUCH more! This is one of the few novels I've read as many times over. Without being loud or flashy, and with no event-inspired beginning/middle/end, it's a can't-put-it-down book. A young woman, Margaret, simply writes her life, largely by telling you about the life of her Grandmother. Through that account, her audience gets to experience the fascinatingly peculiar (thanks to Grandmother) growing up experience of both Margaret, and her mother, Sophie. (Sophie gets around to growing up a bit late in life!) I love a book that makes the reader think and feel, but rather than being tiring, is energizing.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2005

    Charming !

    I adored this book ! I live in Raleigh, North Carolina and this book is so lovingly true to the 'southern way'. It was just too short. Fell in love.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2002

    the greatest

    I have read this more than three times. This is the best book in the world. I love charlie kate, and all of her adeventures. This makes you want more and more and everytime I read it never gets boring to me. Marvolus,up-to beat and on the edge.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2014

    I loved this book. Strong female characters/protagonist. Definitely worth the read.

    Great book highly recommend foryoung adult and up. Great story of multiple generations of a matriarchal family.

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  • Posted July 26, 2012

    A great read!

    This book was intelligent and well written. I loved the women characters!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2012

    Enjoyable book

    I like books about strong women, this one included. I didn't absolutely love it though.

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  • Posted January 28, 2011

    love the characters

    slow start but fell in love with everyone. upset by the ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2007

    It was alright

    It was an alright novel.I was walking in my library and i felt like a romance.I saw this book and started to read it.In my opinion,it wasn't too bad,but not that great.Characters were memorable and i love the South.The writing style and how everything was brought forth is what hurt the novel the most.Not too bad though.It was a good read and it made you want to pick it up and see what would happen next.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2005

    Charming, what else?

    It was wonderful in the aspect of being short and sweet.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2003

    Fabulous book!

    Charms for the easy life was wonderful -- I smiled, and cried, through the whole thing. It really defines what we all seek in life, from relationships with female family members and/or friends, and from relationships with men. It was so moving, and I can't beleive I didn't discover it until now. I highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2002

    ~~~Nicole's review~~~

    Charms for the Easy Life is an excellent book. I recommend whoever likes the book to go and see the movie. It took me forever to read but it was great. It is kinda confusing at first but then it gets interesting.You will learn a lot from the book and or the movie!

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    Posted September 3, 2010

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    Posted January 13, 2011

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    Posted June 1, 2010

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    Posted March 20, 2010

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