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Charms for the Easy Life

Charms for the Easy Life

3.9 22
by Kaye Gibbons

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A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeatlives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina.In a sad and singular era, they are unique among womenof their time. For radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy andbrilliant daughter Margaret possess powerful charmsto ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that alltoo often beats a path to


A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeatlives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina.In a sad and singular era, they are unique among womenof their time. For radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy andbrilliant daughter Margaret possess powerful charmsto ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that alltoo often beats a path to their door. And they are protectedthrough the years by the eccentric wisdom and muscular loveof the most stalwart Birch of all — a solid, unbending anduncompromising self-taught healer who can cure everythingfrom boils to broken hones to broken hearts ... a remarkablematriarch who calls herself Charlie Kate.

Charms for the Easy Life is the passionate, luminous, andexhilarating New York Times bestseller by Kaye Gibbons,the acclaimed author of Ellen Foster and Sights Unseen.

Author Biography:
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.

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.
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
Donna Seaman
This is an endearingly quirky and clever tale about three generations of head-strong Carolina women. Charlie Kate is the ruling matriarch. A feisty little dame from the get-go, she's a sought-after midwife and healer by the time she's 20, traveling around the county with her bag full of herbs. She takes a break from her unlicensed medical practice to deliver her own daughter, Sophia, in 1904. While her inspired, commonsensical, and selfless doctoring practice--described in cheerfully graphic detail--flourishes, her marriage falters, and soon she and her daughter are going it alone. Sophia grows up beautiful if a bit foolish, marries the wrong man, and also has a daughter, Margaret, our narrator. Gawky and self-effacing, Margaret offers us few glimpses of herself, choosing instead to focus on the eccentricities and genius of her miracle-working grandmother and the beauty and determination of her mother. This trio of voracious readers, do-gooders, and independent thinkers live a cozy yet adventurous life. When love finally arrives for both Sophia and Margaret, Charlie Kate makes sure it's the real thing before she dies as she lived: with her boots on and free of regrets. Gibbons' humor is sly and her handling of period detail deft, while her unabashed delight in telling a good old-fashioned, heart-warming story is refreshing and welcome.

Product Details

San Val, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.16(w) x 7.04(h) x 1.05(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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.

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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Charms for the Easy Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book highly recommend foryoung adult and up. Great story of multiple generations of a matriarchal family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LucyTS More than 1 year ago
This book was intelligent and well written. I loved the women characters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like books about strong women, this one included. I didn't absolutely love it though.
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Dana Graham More than 1 year ago
slow start but fell in love with everyone. upset by the ending.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was wonderful in the aspect of being short and sweet.