A Place Called Wiregrass (2002)
Author: Michael Morris
Erma Lee and her granddaughter Cher, leave Erma's abusive husband, Bozo, Erma's negative and distant mother, and her dead-end job in a clothing factory, and find themselves settling in the small southern town of Wiregrass, Alabama. Once they arrive, Erma Lee gets a job in a school cafeteria and meets Miss Claudia, a rich, older, Christian woman, who takes Erma and Cher under her wing. Erma Lee and Miss Claudia face their pasts as abused women and Erma becomes inspired by Miss Claudia's spirituality. Erma Lee gets baptized, and strengthens her bond with Cher, whose parents are in and out of jail for drugs. Erma Lee also meets Gerald, a Christian man whom Erma begins to date. SPOILER: Miss Claudia dies at the end of the novel, and Erma Lee is finally able to accept her inner strength.
Geographical Setting: Wiregrass, Alabama
Time Period: present day (2002)
Series: No relevant series
A Place Called Wiregrass won the 2003 Christy Award for Best First Novel. The novel is slow-paced and relies heavily on dialogue. However, the book is written in first person and one of the strongest elements of the story is the interior action of Erma Lee's character, as she is the narrator of her story. Erma Lee's interior development is valued above plot. Erma's development is facilitated by conversations with Miss Claudia followed by Erma's inner reflections on the ideas that these conversations bring up. The reader is extremely close to Erma Lee. A Place Called Wiregrass features "flawed" characters that are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, particularly in relationship to their pasts. Most of the characters in the novel have had sordid pasts, but remain in the present, strong Christians. The story discusses abuse, drug use, and general meanness to a large degree. The elements of typically "good" Christian lifestyles are only subtlely inferred, as Erma Lee is meant to find her own way to "better" Christian ways of life. In this way, the novel reads as a testimony as the reader witnesses Erma's reasoning as she becomes a Christian. The novel focuses almost solely on Erma Lee's experiences and thoughts and there do not exist relationships outside of this single character. The setting of A Place Called Wiregrass is not described much, and is not focused on except for references to contemporary stores such as Wal-Mart. The settings, when described, are very realistic and contemporary to America in 2002. The novel's ending ties up all loose ends, and solidifies Erma's position as a "strong" Christian. There is a subtle romance appeal to the story between Erma and Gerald, but not much definitively comes of it save Erma's acceptance of Jesus. Overall, the story is very contemporary, realistic fiction, with contemporary references to stores, and is basically a testimony, or the story of how one character finds her way to Christianity.
Read-alikes: Try Slow Way Home also by Michael Morris, because it features the similar storyline of a drug addicted mother who regains custody of her child and moves to a small southern town to find a "better" life in Christianity and is very similar to the storyline of A Place Called Wiregrass. Also try Charles Martin's Wrapped in Rain: A Novel of Coming Home because it is also set in a small Alabama town and features the element of broken families found in A Place Called Wiregrass, as a motherless son meets, and is tutored by an African-American widow on family, good behavior, and the gospel (parallel to the Miss Claudia character), as this story is also a testimonial of one character finding Christianity amongst "grit." Try Frank E. Peretti's Tilly because it features a lead female character's testimony who uses guilt from an abortion in her past to subscribe to Christianity, also because, like A Place Called Wiregrass, it challenges the more gentle, conventional, face of Christian fiction, by showing the "grittier" pasts of a "normal-looking, nice couple." Also try, Traci Depree's Aprons on a Clothesline from her Emily Lake Series, if the reader particularly enjoyed Miss Claudia's storyline as an aging Christian woman with health problems who lives in a small American town, who must face the question of whether or not her life is still worth living, also because it confronts issue's of the main character's past. Try Lauraine Snelling's Saturday Morning because, like A Place Called Wiregrass it is contemporary and American (set in San Francisco), and centers around a women's shelter (much like the one that Miss Claudia funded). This story features four main storylines, one of which involves a grandmother attempting to save her troubled granddaughter (ala Erma Lee and Cher). Stories revolving around the women's shelter provide testimonial fodder. Finally try Felicia Mason's Sweet Devotion, because it features a female lead character who finds herself in a quaint town in Oregon, after having been abused by her husband, and meets a police chief who becomes a love interest and finds faith in Christianity (this title most resembles the Erma Lee/Gerald storyline about having a second chance at love in a Christian relationship).
Red Flags: A Place Called Wiregrass includes extremely mild cursing, descriptions of abuse, drug use, and fighting. The novel was actually rejected by many Christian publishers for being too "gritty". This novel is not for those who are looking for a gentle, peaceful Christian read, rather for someone who wants a contemporary, "gritty" testimonial of how one woman becomes a Christian.