At the moment, I am visiting my family in Georgia, USA, and next week there is an author signing with Kristy Woodson Harvey at their golf club. So, in preparation, I read Harvey’s latest novel, Slightly South of Simple (which is the subject of her current book tour). The quote featured on the book’s front cover proclaims Harvey as a “major new voice in Southern fiction.” She is certainly succeeding as an author as Slightly South of Simple debuted on the Southern bestseller list and has been widely acclaimed.
Satisfyingly, the book is the first in Harvey’s new Peachtree Bluff series (I love reading series because you know the book’s last page isn’t the end of the story). The novel centres around the lives of a mother and her three daughters during a summer when all the women’s lives are fraught with complications.
Ansley is a 58 year old woman whose husband was killed when their daughters were in their teens. His death led her to move out of Manhattan to Peachtree Bluff, into the house her grandmother left her. This is where she has stayed for the last 16 years, building a successful interior design business and becoming comfortable in her single life.
Caroline, Ansley’s eldest, is a New York socialite whose husband has just left her for a famous model even though she is six-months pregnant with their second child. Sloane, Ansley’s second daughter, married a military man who has left for another nine-month deployment, leaving her with three young sons. Emerson, the youngest, is an actress who has just landed a leading role in a TV movie being filmed in Georgia. All of these events lead the girls back to their mother’s house, putting an end to Ansley’s peaceful, small town. Her summer becomes increasingly chaotic as she juggles taking care of her girls and following her heart after the unexpected reappearance of her first love.
I had not come across Harvey’s publications before, and was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of her writing. Slightly South of Simple is a charming read that integrates complex plot lines while remaining light and humorous. It is definitely an excellent summer read, provoking the right amount of happiness, heartache and reflection, and can be read in one tranquil day at the beach.
The book alternates between the perspectives of Ansley and Caroline, giving the reader insight into both Ansley’s love stories and Caroline’s relationship with her sisters. This double perspective adds significant depth to the text and depicts the evolution of relationships throughout the novel. Also, by writing from the viewpoints of two different generations, the book becomes relatable to a wider pool of readers.
I have not read any explicitly ‘Southern’ fiction, but the Southern setting feels perfectly fitting as the book’s predominant themes are family and marital struggles. This concentration makes for a beautiful novel, exploring challenges from infertility, adultery, loss, loneliness, and loyalty. It will make your heart ache in that thoughtful, bitter-sweet way, and reaffirm the value of love.
I was originally disappointed because early on I guessed the main plot twist as it is signaled throughout the novel, though only revealed in the final pages. I am rarely surprised by plot twists, and I recognize that they are very difficult to orchestrate and successfully execute. Therefore, I was really impressed by Harvey as an extra twist was incorporated at the end, which took me completely off guard.
Knowing Slightly South of Simple is the first in a series, I worried that it would finish on a cliff hanger. Thankfully, enough plot lines resolve for it to be a brilliant novel on its own. However, Harvey has expertly crafted plot lines which remain open-ended and pave the way for an engrossing series. I will certainly be looking forward to the next installment in the The Peachtree Bluff series.