Pull up your rocking chairs and gather around the porch. This Southern-fried tale of a family filled with beguiling women is as sweet as pecan pie. In The Rock Orchard, the Belle women of Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, are known for their lust for life and for men. Charlotte Belle is a shrewd businesswoman who spends her days making money and her evenings in the company of a variety of local gentlemen. She has resisted any semblance of settling down, until the day her baby niece is dropped on her doorstep. Charlotte raises Angela as she would her own, so it's no surprise when teenaged Angela gives birth to her own daughter, Dixie, in the flowerbed behind the house.
Just down the road, Dr. Adam Montgomery is busy setting up his practice and working his way up the local social ladder. He happens upon Angela just as she goes into labor, and helps deliver Dixie. From that day forward, Dr. Montgomery can't get the beautiful Angela out of his mind, despite his planned marriage to a proper Bostonian who is "as pure as pasteurized milk."Even though the Belle girls are, as author Paula Wall puts it, wild as barncats, they have a funny way of encouraging their fellow townsfolk to improve themselves and their community. Charlotte gives a local abused wife the determination to start her own business. Angela prods Dr. Montgomery to establish a local hospital. Then a new preacher comes to town; once he is introduced to the Belle women, Leaper's Fork will never be the same.
The Rock Orchard is endlessly clever and addictively fast-paced. To say that Wall, the author of two humor collections (including If I Were a Man, I'd Marry Me), has a way with words is putting it mildly, and her storytelling is simultaneously sweet and sharp. The Belle women are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but their story shows the power of community and demonstrates that grace can be found in the most unexpected places. Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.