Six of One by Rita Mae Brown

You’d never know Rita Mae Brown, author of the lesbian classic Rubyfruit Jungle, was born north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In her books she talks about the South like family: knowingly, lovingly, aware of its flaws but not tolerating criticism from outsiders. She shows a clear understanding of small towns in particular with their fondness for history and tradition and doesn’t hesitate to show the good and bad sides of both.

Six of One is the life story of two sisters from their childhood in the early 1900’s to the mid-1980’s. The story line switches from present day to the earlier lives of the main protagonists, Julia and Louise Hunsenmeir, and back. Their story begins with a dispute over a hair ribbon and continues through 75-year-old Juts turning cartwheels on the lawn to annoy Wheezy, who thinks it déclassé. They have been lifelong friends, antagonists, confidants, critics, and tormentors of one another. The irrepressible sisters compete with and quarrel with one another through a disastrous 4th of July parade, driving lessons and brief stints as bootleggers. They commiserate over marital and motherhood woes and support one another through tragedy and loss.

Their mother Cora was housekeeper to Celeste Chalfonte and Ramelle Bowman, a leading couple in the social life of  Runnymede, PA, a town split between North and South during the Civil War. The lives of the working class and the upper middle class intertwine throughout the book with surprising parallels and divergences. The author’s rich gift for language allows her to use the voices of disparate characters to talk about the same circumstances and events in different ways.

I had to read this book in private; other people aren’t amused by someone snorting, guffawing and chortling without explanation and when I do it… let’s just say it’s not pretty. Since I didn’t want the book to end, it was a relief to find that the author wrote 2 more books starring Juts and Wheezy.

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