My Summer of Southern Discomfort
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My Summer of Southern Discomfort

3.3 19
by Stephanie Gayle

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Today is Monday. The calls do not come as before. Weeks elapse between them, and when I answer the phone there is no overlap of voices, only my mother's. She spends much of the conversation avoiding mention of the pink elephant trumpeting in the middle of the room.

The pink elephant would be my defection to Georgia. When I telephoned with the news


Today is Monday. The calls do not come as before. Weeks elapse between them, and when I answer the phone there is no overlap of voices, only my mother's. She spends much of the conversation avoiding mention of the pink elephant trumpeting in the middle of the room.

The pink elephant would be my defection to Georgia. When I telephoned with the news of my imminent relocation my father asked, "Georgia, as in the Republic of Georgia by the Black Sea, or Georgia as in the Peach State?" He hoped I meant the former because that Georgia promised unique opportunities to advance the democratic cause of justice. What could Georgia, former land of the Confederacy, offer?

Convicting arsonists and thieves in Macon, Georgia, was never Harvard Law grad Natalie Goldberg's dream. The pay is abysmal, the work is exhausting, and the humidity is hell for a woman with curly hair. But when a steamy romance with her high-powered New York boss went bad, Natalie jumped at the first job offered, packed her bags, and headed south.

Natalie's leftist Yankee background brands her a conspicuous outsider in this insular community. Her father, a famous civil rights lawyer, refuses to accept her career change—or talk to her. Her best friend begs her to come back home, and Natalie keeps thinking she sees her former lover everywhere.

But Natalie's not completely alone. There are a garden-obsessed neighbor, a former beauty queen–turned–defense attorney, and a handsome colleague who has a nervous tic whenever she gets near. And then there's a capital case that has her eating antacids by the truckload.

Yep, it's going to be one heckuva long, hot summer. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Short story writer Gayle makes her debut as a novelist with this chronicle of a young, liberal New York lawyer who starts over in the South. The daughter of a famous civil rights champion, Natalie Goldberg stuns her parents by moving to Bibb County, Ga., to work as a prosecutor. The job was initially Natalie's excuse to flee her position at a Manhattan law firm after having an affair with partner Henry Tate and finding herself the scapegoat for a mistake he made. Though Natalie has some trouble acclimating to her new environs, and she butts heads with co-counsel, good ol' boy Ben Maddox, she slowly warms to life in Bibb County while attempting to balance her anti-death penalty stance with her desire to win a capital case. Natalie's dilemmas are perfectly played, and Gayle's economical prose is peppered with sharp sentences (also a few duds: "I felt as if I had been born full woman, Athena from Zeus's brow, with heavy breasts and dark pubic hair as curly as that atop my head") and clever fish-out-of-water observations. Don't be fooled by the ditzy jacket art. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A quirky lawyer fights the good fight in Gayle's debut novel, a fish out of water tale set in Georgia. When her romp with a partner at her fancy New York City law firm turns sour, Natalie Goldberg decides to make a big change. The city girl heads to Macon, Ga., to take a job as a public prosecutor, leaving behind skyscrapers and sushi lunches for fried chicken and back porches. The novel gets off to a sluggish start. Natalie is surrounded by southern men who don't quite know what to make of their fast-talking, liberal coworker. Things heat up when she is assigned to serve as co-council on a murder case, a capital-punishment case and Natalie's partner is pressing for the death penalty. Natalie leans far left, and must muster enough professionalism to help win the case and prove she belongs. It's not enough for Natalie to handle herself in the courtroom, though. She must also get over her disastrous affair and start to rebuild her life. This is where Gayle wades knee-deep in cliche, with Natalie learning life lessons while gardening with her sweet southern neighbor, and while helping a coworker's sister escape an abusive husband. It would take one potent mint julep to enjoy the sappy plot, and the problem is exacerbated by the Georgia setting, which feels inauthentic, as if Gayle skimmed a travel guide for background information. Bland. Agent: William Reiss/John Hawkins & Associates

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
7.98(w) x 5.26(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

My Summer of Southern Discomfort

By Stephanie Gayle

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Stephanie Gayle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061236297

Chapter One

March 11, 2000

"I don't know why she swallowed the lye," the boy sings, emphasis on "don't." He slips the yellow package of bubble gum into his pocket too fast, then tilts his head up and smiles at me, teeth bright against his dark skin. Cute little thief.

"Dominic," his mother whispers. "What all are you doing?" She brushes raindrops from her tight, glossy curls.

"Practicing my magic trick." He returns the gum to its candy tray slot.

Good story, I think. Here in Georgia it is classified misdemeanor theft by shoplifting. I consider sentencing. A five-dollar fine? Community service?

His mother tells me, "He wants to be a magician this week." Anxious to assure me her son is no career criminal.

Unperturbed, he loads a bottle of juice onto the conveyor belt while singing, "I don't know why she swallowed the lye. I guess she'll die."

The supermarket smells of damp overcoats and soil. "This wet will help," the cashier says. "Before today it was so dry the trees were bribing the dogs." I tilt my head to the side and consider her comment. Oh. Ha. Will I ever understand this honeyed speech in real time?

Dominic tries to lift a heavy bag of potatoes from the depths of the cart. "I don't know why she swallowed the lye." He lets dramatic tension build before singing, "I guessshe'll diiiiiieeeee!"

His mother shooshes him while keeping her eyes focused on the automated scanner.

As he swings into the third verse his mother absentmindedly remarks in that mysterious way that reveals how maternal brains are focused on their children at all times, "Baby, it's fly, not lye. Fly."

No, no, I want to tell him. "Fly" doesn't make any sense. Who dies from swallowing a fly? No one. If swallowing flies was fatal, think how many motorcyclists would litter our highways! But lye makes sense. Lye is a poisonous substance. Swallowing it might kill the old lady. Although then the song would have only one verse.

I unload my small basket, careful not to touch the white plastic divider that separates my single-sized servings from Dominic's family's bulk containers of rice, beans, potatoes, orange juice, bananas, and deli meats. I forget I no longer live in the Northeast where such trespasses incur stricter punishments.

I place a container of low-fat peach yogurt on the conveyor belt and consider that maybe it is not lye after all but lie. What if the old lady swallowed a lie? Now there exists the basis for a multiple-versed song. Perhaps she swallowed a lie about someone's guilt and the police came to interview her and she had to go to court. I sing the song inside my head as I set my basket on the linoleum floor, on top of a discarded weekly with articles devoted to the upcoming Southern Belle Ball.

Dominic and his mother walk behind their bag-laden cart. It squeaks toward the automatic doors that will whoosh open and consume them and their song. I glance out the tall, fingerprint-smudged windows, checking to see if the rain has lessened.

"I don't know why she swallowed the lie."

A dark car drives past and I can feel my forehead tighten as I squint, trying to see if its license plate is blue and white. The falling rain obscures it. I contort my neck; adjust my stance, lean forward. Blue and white? White and blue? Which is it?

The car is gone before I can decide. Not that it matters. It's not him. I should know better.

The grocery clerk clears her throat again to get my attention. I mutter "sorry" and give her the money displayed on the register total. The grocery bag has a grinning pig face on it. "Keep dry now," the clerk calls after me.

The puddle-spotted parking lot is almost empty. I curl my toes inside my damp sneakers and try to think of a different song to sing. No use dwelling on the lies I swallowed that led me here, to the Piggly Wiggly parking lot in Macon, Georgia. No use wondering if swallowed lies ever dissolve or if they remain forever hard, like rocks. After a moment, I move toward my car and begin whistling "Oh, Susannah" because it is the first song I think of, it sounds cheerful, and it means nothing to me at all.


Excerpted from My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle Copyright © 2007 by Stephanie Gayle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephanie Gayle's work has appeared in the literary magazines 400 Words, The Charles River Review, Edgar Literary Journal, Ellipsis, and The Fourth River. Her story "Interior Design" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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My Summer of Southern Discomfort 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this to read by the pool a few summers ago & it ended up on my bookshelf until a few weeks ago. The author really made me feel for Natalie. When reading the book I suddenly transformed into a New Yorker who was severely out of my element in Georgia & totally empathized with Natalie's every emotion. When it ended I was left wanting more - what exactly does Natalie's future hold?
harstan More than 1 year ago
Natalie Goldberg shocks her parents when she flees Manhattan to accept the position of prosecutor in Bibb County, Georgia. Her reason for heading south is much less altruistic than her being renowned for championing civil rights causes parents would appreciate. Natalie is forced to leave town as she is the fall girl for a major legal error by a full partner Henry Tate at the New York firm they worked Tate was her lover until he used her. Natalie struggles to adjust to the southern rusticate slower paced life style of Bibb County. She especially finds herself amused and angry often at the same time when she and prosecutor Ben Maddox, whose connections prove the old south still runs the county, argue the merits of a case or how to save the world, NRA style. However her biggest adjustment is capital punishment, which she opposes on moral grounds, but as a Georgia prosecutor she must prosecute these cases with fervor that is what she is working on as she finds herself increasingly enjoying life in Bibb County, Georgia. --- MY SUMMER OF SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT is a superb character study that uses the setting of a legal thriller (although thriller seems a bit too strong) to look deep at the adjustments and adaptability of a person totally changing professional and personal lifestyles. The well written story line focuses on Natalie¿s struggles to adapt from sophisticated Manhattanite to working with and for ignorant rednecks over time she concludes the locals are much deeper than just dumb hicks as she first thought. Readers will enjoy the New Yorker¿s southern comfit transformation (though this reviewer admits a strong bias as a former borough resident who moved to Atlanta). --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed reading this great new book. I am always looking for new authors and I've discovered a gem. I found the story to be very compelling. There was a great deal of character development and I found myself deeply invested in Natalie's new life in the South as she navigated the strange new waters she was in. The court case was also interesting, but the focus was more on Natalie's personal growth as she escaped New York City and her heartache there. I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bella2881 More than 1 year ago
This was a great Summer read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MECC More than 1 year ago
Easy, but interesting summer read. I liked the main character throughout, and could relate to her, but I felt like the book tried to pick up too many plot points (moving, NY, South, job, family, friends, love, work, big case, murder trial, possible love interest, helping love interests family, etc) and then seemed rushed. (Hence--what the reviewer below was saying, rushed climax, but there indeed was one, it was just rushed. It was her decision if that helps.) I liked the authors writing style, it was effortless, entertaining, and believable.
Hat_Fantastic More than 1 year ago
I am from a town just north of Macon GA so the setting is what sold me on buying the book, along with the really cute book cover. I love Chick Lit books with lots of comedy and of course, romance! I figured that was what I was in for. Boy, was I wrong! May I ask what the actual plot of the book was? If anyone knows, can you please tell me? I could not, for the life of me, figure out what it was. Plus, I kept waiting (and waiting) for a climax. I never got one. One word: BORING! Also, I am from the south and could not relate to any of the characters!
fgfyhh More than 1 year ago
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