Reminiscent of Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is, Catherine Landis' debut novel is a sweet, sassy and tart story about the intersection of two women's lives.

At 20, Ruth Ritchie wants more from life than she can find in her small-town Southern home. Her goal of leaving without looking back seems realized when she meets Chuck Allen Pirkle at a funeral. She elopes with the stereo salesman, settling into a domestic routine of loud music, beer for breakfast and a steady diet of peanut butter nabs. When Chuck develops a devout attachment to the preaching at The Little White Church nearby, Ruth decides it's time for her to move on.

After loading up her car and leaving her husband behind, she sets out on her journey, stopping in Lawsonville, North Carolina, for gas, junk food and a nap. In town, she meets Rose at the local five-and-dime. Feisty but compassionate, the aging Rose is a generous companion for the floundering young woman. Rose takes Ruth in, gets her a job and helps her find a place to live.

Rose's children would like to see her retire from the local newspaper and face the reality of her lung cancer. Rose believes she has time to write one more exposŽ about the way big businesses poison the environment, particularly in poor communities in the South.

With empathy, subtlety and humor, Landis intertwines the stories of Ruth beginning a life of her own, while Rose comes to the end of a life lived on her own terms. The narrative voice is warm, gentle and funny, with just enough bite to keep the story's sadness at bay.

Landis, a former reporter, has created a memorable novel of friendship based on love, yet free from expectation, obligation or a shared history. The fried pies at the local hardware store are a mouth-watering metaphor for the surprises of life in a small Southern town. Pam Kingsbury writes from Florence, Alabama.

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