It's 1948 on a tobacco farm in southern Virginia and a poor farm girl hopes to break away from an abusive father by finding a suitor to rescue her. But for Cora Slaughter, a slight deformity forces her to live in the shadow of her sister Sibby, who basks in the attention of all the local boys. Tormented by the thought that she will grow up to be a spinster, and teased by her schoolmates, Cora takes refuge in the books that her teacher lends her. But life takes a dramatic turn when Cora meets a dark, handsome stranger who comes to town looking for work. What she doesn't realize is that the life she is escaping is ideal compared to the hell she is about to enter.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)|
Read an Excerpt
In back, the women are laying out the dishes they've brought on the long wooden tables. Steaming hot macaroni, butter lying in golden slabs on top of a melting crust of cheese. Platters of fried chicken, a dish that always gets eaten, every last piece. Creasey salad, dark and bitter green, with chunks of pork mixed in. Dishes of snap beans, again mixed with pieces of fatback, glistening with delicious grease. Homemade potato rolls and flaky pan biscuits. Pickled watermelon and pickled peaches. I look for a bare place to put my two dreary dishes: a bean salad and a dried-out spoonbread. They'll excuse my modest offerings, as they always do.
On the last plank table crowd the desserts. An enormous snowy cake, yellow on the inside, with flaking fresh coconut sprinkled across the icing. Crunchy pecan pies by the dozen. Someone made a cobbler, and its thick pastry only barely covers the bursting blackberries beneath in their beds of sugar, dough, and butter. There's millionaire's salad, although I think this should go on the salad table instead of with the desserts. And peach and lemon chess pie. Someone's even taken the time to grind ice cream, the rock salt and ice still clinging to the outside of the bucket.
Several children have been given cardboard church fans from the funeral home and told to keep the flies off the food. The Jesus on the fans looks sickly, his drooping dark eyes gazing across his folded hands. When the women aren't looking, the children play tag around the tables, ignoring their task.
Joshua is not here; he's with his father and the other men as they greet people filing out of church. I always come out the back way to avoid the grinning line of people, smiling in their stiff Sunday best. Some of them are kindly, but most of them are curious, and I cannot abide that. Since we got to this place eleven months ago, I've avoided the stares and whispers. The people act friendly, and that's enough. They often speak and then forget, bringing their hands up to their mouths. The ones who remember give me a shy wave, as if unsure of how to greet me. Sometimes Joshua calls out hello when he's with me, although I haven't encouraged that. Most of the time we just stick to ourselves.
Aaron is still inside with him. I see the last of the women crowding down the front steps of the church. Mrs. Grey is always near the end of the line, and the pianist, Mrs. Peale. Mrs. Grey invited me, gesturing and pointing, to come to her Sunday school class, which meets during the hour before church starts, but I shook my head. I stay in the church basement with Joshua where it's nice and cool, and meet Aaron after his class is done. Then we go up the stairs and into our pew.
More dishes are filling in the spaces left on the crowded tables-groaning tables, they used to call them back at my home church, Calvary Baptist. It's been so long since I've seen anyone from home. I wonder what Mother looks like now, how WillieEd is doing running the farm. I imagined her life would be easier since Father died, but it seems not. The one letter from her that found its way to me talked about how lonely she was, the hardship. Imagine missing a man like Father, who made our lives a daily misery. But I guess it's all a matter of what you get used to.
Now she and the children are going it alone. I'm sure Sibby must be married by now. At least I know the church folks would help Mother if she needed food, and Man Murfree across the way pitches in with his tractor when they need it. There's only so much WillieEd can do with a mule. Sibby used to think Man Murfree was sweet on Mother, but I guess that was just a silly whisper, probably started by Alicia Farnsworth. She used to love to stir up all grades of trouble.
As I stand here woolgathering, Joshua comes running toward me, clutching a bunch of dandelions he picked. They're his favorite flower, and mine too. He holds them up smiling, his brown curls twisting at the nape of his neck from the heat. His bright eyes shining, Mama. I smile and take the flowers and steer him over to a shady place under a tree, where we sit.
I'm ravenously hungry, but first there's a long prayer by Deacon Sayers. He takes a stance at the head of the tables, close enough so I can see his lips curving around the words. -Dear Lord, he begins, Bless this glorious day, the Sabbath day on which we praise your name. Thank you for sharing your Son, who shed His precious blood, the blood of the Lamb, for us poor sinners. We pray for those who live in the dark, for those who have not seen your light, the light of the world. We pray for President Truman, that he may make decisions that will lead America toward Christianity and away from the heathenism that has been a plague on the world and our country. We pray that in this time of peace, we will not forget those who gave their lives for their country.
Deacon Sayers had lost his eldest son seven years ago, right before the Germans finally admitted they were licked. I had seen some women talking about it at church one Sunday, shaking their heads. They were saying it seemed like he'd have gotten over it by now. I look at Joshua and cannot imagine ever getting over a loss like that.
-and we pray for those on the Southern Baptist Missions Board, he was concluding, &151;as they send missionaries out to all parts of the world to make believers in Your name. Help us here in Virginia to support the Board in its efforts to spread Your name to all parts of the globe. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and we thank You for Your bounty. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The blessing over, people begin to line up at the tables. Joshua is pulling on me to get up; he's hungry, but I hold him back. I won't go until the end, that way there's less notice. I've almost come to hate the kind looks as much as the cruel ones.
Aaron is eating on a bench the men have pulled up under some pine trees. He keeps his hat slouched over his face, chewing mightily. Not a thought about whether his boy has eaten or not. He'll have his seconds and possibly thirds before we even get up to serve ourselves.
At long last the line of women and children has emptied out. I pull Joshua up and we go over to the table. He grabs a biscuit and begins eating it as we go through the line. I fill our plates, avoiding my own poor offerings like the plague. I can't stand to eat anything I've prepared; that's why I've dropped off to nothing. Seems like I don't have a taste for anything but someone else's cooking anymore. And I don't get the chance of that very often.
Joshua is on his second biscuit. I don't want his father to see him bolting his food before we even sit down. I clump over to another shade tree away from the groups of women, and we sit and eat quickly. He looks at me and holds up his plate.
-More, Mama? he asks; I can see his lips moving and his worried look. It makes me sad deep inside for my little boy to already have to worry about things. I glance back at the bench under the pines; the men are laughing and talking. Aaron is picking his teeth with a sliver of haystalk. I motion for Joshua to stay there, and I walk back to the tables, taking it slow.
Several women are at the tables, tickling the last of their appetites with a little taste of sweet potato pie, a spoonful of fried squash, one more bite of ham. I quickly fill up half a plate and walk back to where Joshua waits patiently. I motion for him to eat, and sit in front of him to block him from Aaron's view. Joshua is only three, too young to know table manners, but Aaron expects him to behave, especially at church. Of course, Aaron's religious leanings only began since we moved here. He wouldn't darken the door of a church before we arrived in Tarville.
It's now midafternoon, deadly hot. I feel stuffed and bloated. Sweat runs down my back and pools above the knob at the base of my spine. I raise my apron discreetly and try to fan myself with it, but I can't do it without making too much of a stir. I settle for a large oak leaf and fan Joshua's face. He's fallen asleep and is lying with his head on my lap, eyes blissfully closed, a contented smile on his face. A shadow falls across Joshua and me. I look up, and it's Mrs. Rattner and Mrs. Willis, two of the deacons' wives. They smile at me, eyes shiny with some secret knowledge. They point to Joshua and mouth exaggeratedly,
-Sweet little boy.
I nod my thanks, my head rocking back and forth on the stem of my neck. With each motion a pounding repeats in my skull. I feel like I'm going to be sick, but surely I can't do that here. Mrs. Willis is speaking to me. I look up at her lips.
-look hot. Some of us are going into the basement to cool off while the men finish their reading.
She gestures toward the steps of the church. While I sat there in my stupor, most of the congregation has gone, and only a few men and their wives are still in the yard. Several of the women are piling the leftover food into boxes, and the others are probably already inside.
-come in with us out of this heat?
I look down at Joshua. He's content, sleeping away. It would be cooler inside for him, but then they'd have me, pinned and needled. The last time I answered any questions I got into a load of trouble. I shake my head no, and point to him.
-Mmhmm, I groan, indicating that I'll stay here and wait for Aaron. The women nod and smile, and turn to leave. Mrs. Rattner looks back at me, and I see her say to Mrs. Willis,
-knowed from the first I saw her she was off-kilter. My face burns in embarrassment, but the feeling passes, as it has many times before. I've learned to shrug off this kind of comment, letting them think whatever they want.
So it has been for the past year, me not speaking, not hearing a thing except the voices in my head.
Copyright (c) by Leslie Wells
Reading Group Guide
1. In the early part of the novel, Sibby tries to get Cora to be more proactive socially, but to no avail. Yet Sibby obviously enjoys, perhaps even flaunts, her prowess over boys and her social acumen. Did you find Sibby to be a sympathetic character, or did you think she should have been more sensitive to Cora's feelings?
2. The church that Cora grew up in is portrayed as a supportive community, yet the church she joins with Aaron is suspicious and divisive. Did the descriptions successfully portray the range in the nature of the religious groups?
3. The black and white tobacco pickers exhibit a camaraderie while working that is belied by the underlying racial tensions in the community. Discuss how this uneasy truce could have been typical of the times.
4. How did Nita Raines help Cora find the strength to change her situation? Would Cora have found the courage to leave Aaron without Nita's support?
5. Many people question why women stay in violent situations. Was it convincing that Cora tried unsuccessfully to run away from Aaron once, then was afraid to attempt it again? Were her reasons for staying with him credible?
6. Did Cora's seeming passivity elicit your sympathy or your exasperation? Do you believe that her attitude and feeling of worthlessness is typical of abused women?
7. Cora's son, Joshua, is her anchor in life, the one thing she holds on to in the midst of the chaos of living with Aaron. Would Cora have left Aaron earlier if she hadn't had a child, or would she have never left him?
8. How did you feel about Aaron's death at the end of the novel? Were Cora's actions justified?
9. Cora's handicap seems like an insurmountable limitation while she is in rural Virginia, but once she moves to San Francisco, she realizes that in a big city her limp is not very noticeable, and that she can indeed work and be independent. How much of one's perception of oneself is defined by one's milieu and economic circumstances?
10. Is Leslie Wells's most important topic the importance of putting a stop to domestic violence? Is it the role of fiction to encourage the support of worthy causes?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book very much. It was sad at times, but I couldn't ever put it down. When I should have been studying for my finals, I was trying to read this instead. Cora is a brave woman and anyone that is or was treated the way she was, they should become brave and not let someone take over them. I think this book was very well written and I would recommend this book. It is heartfelt, loving, sad, and scary, but in the end is a happy one.
The Curing Season is a marvelous first novel and an extraordinarily engrossing and moving read! The story of Cora and Aaron's abusive relationship was enthralling,vivid, and heartbreaking. The depiction of tobacco farming and the Southern conversations were very well-written.