The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

by Edward Kelsey Moore


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307950437
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 139,128
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Edward Kelsey Moore lives in Chicago, where he has enjoyed a long career as a cellist. His short fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including Indiana Review, African American Review, and Inkwell. His short story “Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix” was selected as an audience favorite on National Public Radio’s Stories on Stage series. 

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
I woke up hot that morning. Came out of a sound sleep with my face tingling and my nightgown stuck to my body. Third time that week. The clock on the dresser on the other side of the bedroom glowed 4:45, and I could hear the hiss of the air conditioner and feel its breeze across my face. I had set the temperature to sixty before going to sleep. So common sense said that it had to be chilly in the room. Well, common sense and the fact that my husband, James, who lay snoring beside me, was outfitted for winter even though it was mid-July. He slept like a child—a six-foot, bald-headed, middle-aged child—wrapped in a cocoon he had fashioned for himself out of the sheet and blanket I had kicked off during the night. Just the top of his brown head was visible above the floral pattern of the linens. Still, every inch of me was screaming that the room was a hundred degrees.
I lifted my nightgown and let it fall, trying to fan cool air onto my skin. That accomplished nothing. My friend Clarice claimed that meditation and positive thinking eased her path through menopause, and she was forever after me to try it. So I lay still in the predawn darkness and thought cool thoughts. I summoned up an old summer memory of hopping with the kids through the cold water jetting from the clicking yellow sprinkler in our backyard. I pictured the ice that formed every winter on the creek that ran behind Mama and Daddy’s house in Leaning Tree, making it look like it was wrapped up in cellophane.
I thought of my father, Wilbur Jackson. My earliest recollection of him is the delicious chill I got as a little girl whenever Daddy scooped me up in his arms after walking home on winter evenings from the carpentry shop he owned. I recalled how cold radiated from Daddy’s coveralls and the way it felt to run my hands over the frost—coated hair of his beard.
But Daddy’s shop had been gone for ages. The Leaning Tree property, creek and all, had been the domain of various renters for half a decade. And my children were each at least twenty years beyond dancing in the spray of a sprinkler.
No thoughts, at least not the ones I came up with, proved capable of icing down my burning skin. So I cussed Clarice for her bad advice and for making me think of the old days—a certain recipe for sleeplessness—and I decided to head for the kitchen. There was a pitcher of water in the Frigidaire and butter pecan ice cream in the freezer. I figured a treat would set me right.
I sat up in the bed, careful not to wake James. Normally, he was as easygoing a man as you’d ever meet. But if I woke him before dawn on a Sunday, he would look at me sideways all through morning service and right up until dinner. So, in order not to disturb him, I moved in slow motion as I stood, slipped my feet into my house shoes, and made my way to the bedroom door in the dark.
Even though I had made the trip from our bed to the kitchen thousands of times in pitch blackness, what with sick children and countless other nighttime emergencies during the decades of our marriage, and even though not a stick of furniture in our bedroom had been moved in twenty years, I rammed the little toe of my right foot into the corner of our old mahogany dresser not five steps into my journey. I cussed again, out loud this time. I looked over my shoulder to see if I had awakened James, but he was still snoring away in his linen wrappings. Hot and tired, my toe throbbing in my green terrycloth slip-ons, I had to fight the urge to run and wake James and insist that he sit up and suffer along with me. But I was good and continued to creep out of the room.
Other than the faint growl of James snoring three rooms away, the only sound in the kitchen was the bass whoosh made by the lopsided ceiling fan churning above my head. I turned on the kitchen light and looked up at that fan wobbling on its axis. With my toe smarting, and still longing to distribute my bad humor, I decided that even if I couldn’t justify snapping at James about my hot flash or my sore toe, I could surely rationalize letting off some steam by yelling at him for improperly installing that fan eighteen years earlier. But, like my desire to wake him and demand empathy, I successfully fought off this temptation.
I opened the refrigerator door to get the water pitcher and decided to stick my head inside. I was in almost to my shoulders, enjoying the frosty temperature, when I got the giggles thinking how someone coming upon me, head stuffed into the refrigerator instead of the oven, would say, “Now there’s a fat woman who is completely clueless about how a proper kitchen suicide works.”
I grabbed the water pitcher and saw a bowl of grapes sitting next to it looking cool and delicious. I pulled the bowl out with the pitcher and set them on the kitchen table. Then I fetched a glass from the dish drainer and brought it to the table, kicking my house shoes off along the way in order to enjoy the feel of cold linoleum against the soles of my bare feet. I sat down at what had been my place at the table for three decades and poured a glass of water. Then I popped a handful of grapes into my mouth and started to feel better.
I loved that time of day, that time just before sunrise. Now that Jimmy, Eric, and Denise were all grown and out of the house, the early hours of the day were no longer linked to slow-passing minutes listening for coughs or cries or, later, teenage feet sneaking in or out of the house. I was free to appreciate the quiet and the way the yellowish-gray light of the rising sun entered the room, turning everything from black and white to color. The journey from Kansas to Oz right in my own kitchen.
That morning, when the daylight came it brought along a visitor, Dora Jackson. I clapped my hand over my mouth to stifle a squeak of surprise when I first caught sight of my mother strolling into the room. She came from the direction of the back door, her short, wide body waddling with an uneven stride from having her left leg badly set by a country doctor when she was a girl.
People used to call us “the twins,” Mama and me. The two of us are round women—big in the chest, thick around the waist, and wide across the hips. We share what has often been charitably called an “interesting” face—narrow eyes, jowly cheeks, broad forehead, big but perfect teeth. I grew to be a few inches taller, five foot three. But if you were to look at pictures of us, you’d swear we were the same woman at different ages.
My mother loved the way she looked. She would strut through town on her uneven legs with her big breasts pointing the way forward, and you knew from looking at her that she figured she was just about the hottest thing going. I never came to love my tube-shaped body the way Mama loved hers, but learning to imitate that confident stride of hers was probably the single smartest thing I ever did.
Mama wore her best dress that Sunday morning, the one she usually brought out only for summer weddings and Easter. It was light blue with delicate yellow flowers and green vines embroidered around the collar and the cuffs of the short sleeves. Her hair was pulled up, the way she wore it for special occasions. She sat down across from me at the table and smiled.
Mama gestured with her hand toward the bowl of grapes on the table and said, “Are you outta ice cream, Odette?”
“I’m trying to eat healthier, maybe take off a few pounds this summer,” I lied, not wanting to admit that I was thinking of the grapes as a first course.
Mama said, “Dietin’ is a waste of energy. Nothin’ wrong with having a few extra pounds on you. And you really shouldn’t drink so much water at this time of day. You were a bedwetter.”
I smiled and, in a childish show of independence, drank more water. Then I tried to change the subject. I asked, “What brings you by, Mama?”
“I just thought I’d come tell you about the fun I had with Earl and Thelma McIntyre. We was up all night goin’ over old times and just laughin’ up a storm. I had forgot just how funny Thelma was. Lord, that was a good time. And that Thelma can roll a joint like nobody’s business, tight little sticks with just enough slack in the roach. I told her—”
“Mama, please,” I interrupted. I looked over my shoulder the way I always did when she started talking about that stuff. My mother had been a dedicated marijuana smoker all of her adult life. She said it was for her glaucoma. And if you reminded her that she’d never had glaucoma, she would bend your ear about the virtues of her preventative vision care regimen.
Other than being against the law, the problem with Mama’s habit, and the reason I automatically glanced over my shoulder when she started talking about that mess, was that James had worked for the Indiana State Police for thirty-five years. Mama got caught twenty years back buying a bag of dope on the state university campus on the north end of town, and as a favor to James, the head of campus security brought her home instead of arresting her. The campus security chief swore he’d keep it under wraps, but things like that never stay quiet in a little town like Plainview. Everybody knew about it by the next morning. It tickled Mama to no end when her getting busted became a sermon topic at church a week later. But James didn’t see the humor in it when it happened, and he never would.
I was eager for Mama to get back on track with the story of her evening with the McIntyres, skipping any illegal parts, because foremost among my mother’s many peculiarities was the fact that, for many years, the vast majority of her conversations had been with dead people. Thelma McIntyre, the excellent joint roller, had been dead for twenty-some years. Big Earl, on the other hand, had been just fine one day earlier when I’d seen him at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat buffet. If he had indeed been visiting with Mama, it was not good news for Big Earl.
“So, Big Earl’s dead, is he?” I asked.
“I imagine so,” she said.
I sat there for a while, not saying anything, just thinking about Big Earl gone from the earth. Mama gazed at me like she was reading my mind and said, “It’s all right, baby. Really. He couldn’t be happier.”
We found out about Mama seeing ghosts at a Thanksgiving supper back in the 1970s. Mama, Daddy, my big brother Rudy, James, Jimmy, Eric, and me—I was pregnant with Denise that fall—were all gathered around the table. In keeping with tradition, I had done all of the cooking. Flowers Mama understood. She had the best garden in town, even before she devoted a plot to her prized marijuana plants. Food Mama never quite got the hang of. The last time Mama attempted to cook a holiday meal, we ended up feeding her black-and-gray glazed ham to the dog and dining on hardboiled eggs. The dog took one bite of Mama’s ham and howled for six hours straight. The poor animal never quite recovered. So I became the family chef at age ten and we ended up with the only vegetarian dog in southern Indiana.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The author uses warmhearted humor and salty language to bring to life a tight-knit African-American community. . . . With salt-of-the-earth characters like fearless Odette, motherless Barbara Jean, and sharp-tongued Clarice, along with an event-filled plot that readers will laugh and cry over, this is a good bet to become a best seller.” —Library Journal

Throughout the Supremes’ intertwined stories is one constant—meeting and eating at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, a place where relationships are forged, scandals are aired and copious amounts of chicken are consumed. . . . A novel of strong women, evocative memories and deep friendship.” —Kirkus

Edward Kelsey Moore’s The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat had me nodding in recognition and laughing out loud when I wasn’t crying. His delightful voice really rings true, bringing the unforgettable Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean to vivid life on every page.—Connie Briscoe, author of Money Can’t Buy Me Love
The Supremes at Earl’s-All-You-Can-Eat is a scrumptious delight! I can’t wait for my old friends to get to know my new friends: Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice (not to mention Odette’s pot-smoking mama and her friend Mrs. Roosevelt!).” – Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters
“I am always a little suspicious of a male writer speaking for female characters, but Moore inhabits and enlarges the experience he creates so delightfully. A real triumph for a brilliant new novelist.” —Suzanne Levine, author of How We Love Now: Women Talk About Intimacy after Fifty

"Edward Kelsey Moore has written a novel jam-packed with warmth, honesty,  wit, travail, and just enough madcap humor to keep us giddily off-balance. It  teems with memorable characters, chief among them Odette, as unlikely and  irresistible protagonist as we are likely to meet. The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is that rare and happy find: a book that delivers not only  good story, but good company." —Leah Hager Cohen, author of The Grief of Others

"What a delight and a privilege it is to be among the earliest readers of this breathtaking debut. The supremely gifted, supremely entertaining, and supremely big-hearted Edward Kelsey Moore has conjured up the story of an entire community and, at its sparkling center, a trio of memorable heroines. How I long to have Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean on speed-dial! At least I'll be able to brag that I knew them before they hit the big time . . . as I can promise you they will." —Julia Glass, author of Three Junes and The Widower’s Tale

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Edward Kelsey Moore’s marvelous debut novel, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat.

1. “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is rooted in the fond memories I have of a childhood spent eavesdropping on the women of my family as they talked at family gatherings. Even when I was too young to fully understand the often very adult subject matter of their conversations, I was struck by how quickly the topics veered from heartbreakingly tragic to wildly hilarious. . . . My intention in writing The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat was to celebrate the joy of true friendship and to invite readers to remember the smart, funny and strong women in their lives.” —Edward Kelsey Moore

Do you think the author has accomplished what he set out to do? Does he, a man, convey the feelings of women accurately and convincingly? In what ways is he especially knowing about women’s feelings?

2. Odette was born in a sycamore tree. Barbara Jean was born on the wrong side of the tracks. Clarice was the first black baby to be born in an all-white hospital. How do the circumstances of each woman’s birth shape her choices as adult? Their interactions with one another? Their relationships with their husbands?

3. When things get tough for the Supremes, they often see the funny side of the worst moments. Moore has a lot of fun with cousin Veronica and her donut-eating daughter. In what other instances do the Supremes use humor to help them survive?

4. Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean are best friends, but they’re quite different. What is a defining moment in each of their lives?

5. Commenting on “the tender considerations that came with being a member of the Supremes,” Odette says: “We overlooked each other’s flaws and treated each other well, even when we didn’t deserve it” (p. 37). What other qualities make the friendship among the three women so extraordinary? In what ways do they help one another?

6. The chapters alternate between Odette’s voice and an omniscient third-person narrator. What is the effect of this in storytelling? Why does Moore choose Odette as a narrator rather than Clarice or Barbara Jean?

7. Ghosts appear throughout the novel. What does Odette’s mother’s voice add to the story? What kind of personality comes through? In what ways does she represent a voice of wisdom, and can this be helpful or aggravating to Odette?

8. One of Dora Jackson’s beliefs is that “what we call miracles is just what’s supposed to happen. We either go with it or stand in its way” (p.296). What seemingly miraculous events occur in the novel, and why do some characters choose to “go with it” and others “stand in [their] way”?

9. Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is the first black-owned restaurant in Plainview, Indiana. What role does place play in the novel, and how does the diner shape the lives of the main characters?

10. The Supremes grew up in tumultuous times. How was each one of them affected by the major social changes for African Americans, as well as for women, that occurred over the course of their lives?

11. How are the men who love the Supremes—James, Richmond, Lester, and Chick—each a reflection of the woman he loves? And what does each husband give to the woman in his life that she treasures, despite his failings?

12. Why does Clarice decide not to move back in with Richmond, even after he feels they’ve patched things up? What other changes do you see in Clarice after her separation from her husband, specifically in her relationship with music and religion?  Do you think she will follow her dream as a musician?

13. Do you think that after a life of hard knocks, Barbara Jean will finally find happiness with Chick? Or is she destined for more tough times ahead?

14. Whether alive or dead (or a ghost), the mothers of the Supremes play a major role in their daughters’ lives. As the Supremes grow older, how do their mothers continue to exert an influence on their adult lives? Who is hurt most by it? Who is helped by it? Who is most like her mother as she gets older?

15. Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean each attend three very different churches. In what ways did growing up in these particular churches help to shape them into women they ultimately became?


A Conversation with Edward Kelsey Moore, Author of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

From cellist to debut novelist—it's not a usual life journey. Tell us, what inspired you to take a break from playing the cello to write The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat?

Actually, I never took a break from cello playing. I wrote most of the book while I was playing with the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra. I spent the intermissions and the hours between matinees and evening performances writing the novel longhand in a corner of the musicians' lounge. The atmosphere was hectic sometimes, but I drew a lot of inspiration from being surrounded by talented people doing jobs they loved. I still play as often as I can.

This is the story of three girlfriends who have grown up together, and who take time every Sunday to gather in their local diner to catch up. As we read about Clarice, Odette, and Barbara Jean, we can't help but feel that we're right there at their table in the diner. How did you develop such a keen ear for women's conversation?

If the dialogue feels true, it's because I had the good fortune of growing up around women who were great talkers. I heard fantastic storytellers chatting, gossiping, and teasing each other for hundreds of hours before I was a teenager. So when the idea for The Supremes came to me, the voices of my aunts and cousins came along with it. The Supremes speak with the rhythm and spirit of the conversations I remember from childhood. Believe me, once you've seen grown women fall to the floor laughing while listening to my great-aunt Oleytha gleefully re-enact a funeral that failed to meet her high standards, you don't forget it.

Did the trio of main characters come to you as a group, or did one originate in your imagination first?

The three women came to me together. I first imagined the trio in the diner at a moment that later became a scene near the end of the novel. Then I wondered how each of them got there. How long had they known each other? Were they married? Were they happy? Were they healthy? What things had they forgiven each other for?

The diner, Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, is the first black-owned restaurant in Plainview, Indiana. How important was it to you to set much of the novel in such a historic community institution?

The history of the All-You-Can-Eat as the first black-owned business in downtown Plainview was one of the first things I wrote. Characters fall in love, get their hearts broken, celebrate, and grieve there. The Supremes and their families head to the diner from their places of worship. I wanted the All-You-Can-Eat to have enough significance of its own to support the weight of the emotions the characters bring inside its doors.

While the Supremes are the core of this story, there are several characters around them who color the novel as well, including their husbands, their family members—and even ghosts. How did you decide to structure the story, especially regarding the occasional appearance of ghosts?

When you have a long, intimate friendship with someone, the past you share is as much a part of your interactions as the present, whether you want it to be or not. When characters enter the diner in 2005, they bring 1968 and 1977 with them. The structure of the novel and the presence of the ghosts grew out of that. Because of the effect they continued to have on the lives of the other characters, it seemed natural for Big Earl and Dora to visit, even if they happened to be dead.

Do you have a favorite Supreme?

Yes, but I'm not saying which one.

Music recurs throughout the novel, whether in the background at the diner, at social events in Plainview, or in Clarice's sterling piano skills. As a musician yourself, do you listen to music while writing?

I listen to music when I write, but never classical music. Classical music demands far too much of my attention for me to use it as background—an occupational hazard, I suppose. I usually listen to folk music while I write. I love folk, but, unlike classical, I can still focus on writing while I listen to it.
Who have you discovered lately?

I couldn't put down Ayana Mathis's THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE [A Spring '13 Discover pick. -Ed.] and I loved Kevin Wilson's THE FAMILY FANG [A Fall '11 Discover pick.— Ed.]. I've recommended those two books to more friends than any others over the past year. I'm excited to see what both of these authors come up with next.

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The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 134 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The title alone was enough to lure me in but once I got started I was completely hooked. I laughed, I cried, I got mad and then got happy. What a ride. Thanks, Mr. Moore for my new favorite book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow. That's al I can say. It's an amazing book.
roadtrip More than 1 year ago
It made me laugh out loud. It made me smile. It made cry. It made me want to hug some, and to slap others silly. In other words, it is a wonderful book, beautifully written, with characters you will love or hate (and even a few you don't really care about one way or the other). But there's no question this book will stay with me for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a voracious reader for 6+ decades I have seldom read a book where I felt more like I wasn't reading but  listening to a conversation.  It pulled at the gamut of my emotions! Giving books is a passion of mine  and I will be buying so many copies it just might propel  this to the best seller list   where I believe it belongs!    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books i've ever read. Did not want it to end. It's one i'll read over again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful. Even the insanity made sense and added a hysterical sense of fun to the book. I loved it. Hoping the author continues to write and releases a new book soon!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Edward Kelsey Moore has written a wonderful book. He has given such life to the All you can and feel like you are sitting at the window table. You will love the supremes. Do not hesitate. Get this book and tell your friends. It will make you laugh out loud and it will make you cry.
nolagirl75 More than 1 year ago
After waiting for a really good read this year -- this is it!! Where have you been Edward Kelsey Moore? Keep writing like this and i'll keep looking for your books. The characters were so easy to love and it takes you into a different time. I LOVED this book. I never re-read books, but this one will definitely get a second pass. You will be sorry if you don't get to read this one.
Sicilian More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful time I had reading this wonderful, and most colorful, tapestry of life...real life that you can identify with.  Each character is lovingly drawn out to perfection.  You almost feel that you can reach out and touch them.   I'm with others in hoping there are more books from this very talented author.  He can visually draw images with his words...not something that every author can do.  I was left with feeling I had made a whole lot of new friends and ready to jump in the car to find Plainview.  Whenever I now hear a song by the Supremes I'll think of this book.  Well done Mr. Moore, well done!  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great. It dealt with some serious issues but added just enough comic relief to keep you reading. Id love to read more about these characters. I hope there is a sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had a fun, interesting story line. Easy read, but really kept my interest. Have suggested it to many of my friends
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book about friendship and relationships with just a little quirkiness to make you smile.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the depth of characters who regularly enjoy their meals at the All You Can Eat. Many people never experience such long time friendships. For those of us who have found such lasting relationships, it is interesting to compare how the characters in the book stand up to real people. This book is very funny and also surprisingly poignant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful.......if you love Southern fiction with humor and great characters then this book is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Our book club picked this book and we all loved, loved, loved it. It amazed us that Mr. Moore, being a man, was so able to tap into the mindset and emotions of women. It was beautifully written, sad, and funny. Hated to have it come to an end but knowing that Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean had each other to be there for each other gave me comfort. Highly recommend to any women that has best girlfriends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lovely story of three friends. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moore has written a unique story of best friends growing together. Centered around the neighborhood buffet restaurant as a Sunday tradition, the ups and downs of life of three BFFs are experienced. The author writes in the first person a key character Odette's story. However he uses the narrative style to weave the story of the two other BFFs Clarice and Barbara Jean, all three known as the "Supremes." This is a wonderful and interesting story with tinges of ghosts to provide drama. At the same time a strong link of friends who become like family is described. Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Old friends, thanks to the author's ability to make them seem so. I will miss them.
Iamwhogodsaysiam More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat. The author did an awesome job of developing the characters. The characters were rich with personality and very colorful. While reading this book I forgot the author was a male. Moore added such genuineness to the female characters that made the voices of the book believable. The transition of the book from present to past shade light into the history of the journey and events that occurred in the life of the people of that time and story line. Applauses go to Edward K. Moore for a phenomenal job.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so glad that I found this book; it has everything you could want in a book.  Humor, love, sadness, grief...and did I mention humor"  I highly recommend this book, and hope that Edward Kelsey Moore continues to write such wonderful prose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful. I couldn't put it down. I laughed and cried. I've past it on to several of my friends who have had the same reaction. Great book!!
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
Loved this story, having life time girlfriends is a blessing! I thank God for my "Supremes"
vic5 More than 1 year ago
Being bluntly honest here, I did not know this book was about a group of African-American friends.  As a middle-aged white woman, I have to say that I loved this book so much.  The friendships were beautiful.  The story was comical, sad, and poignant.  I would say this is one of the best books I've read.  Congratulations to Edward Kelsey Moore on writing such a gem.  This book should become a household name.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I devoured this book! Filled with outrageous characters - just wish there was an Earl's in my small town - I'd go there every day!