Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Most authors ask readers to suspend their disbelief, at least a bit. Whether and to what extent that works depends on how the author goes about creating the story, and upon the sort of story it is. And of course, it depends on the individual’s feelings about suspending disbelief; some people mind it more than others. Let’s take a look at the way authors can invite readers to suspend some disbelief. Let’s turn the spotlight on Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Sorry, the first in her Stella Hardesty series.
Hardesty lives in rural Prosper, Missouri, which is somewhat of a misnomer:
‘Besides farming, there was the pork-processing plant, and a sad little office park that had never been fully occupied. The businesses ran along the shabby side of legitimate. There was a used-office-furniture dealer, the headquarters of a regional fried-chicken chain, an outfit that installed prefab sheds in people’s backyards, so who that they had somewhere to put all the junk that didn’t fit in the garage.’
Prosper isn’t any longer the ‘upstanding’ small town it used to be, but to Hardesty, it’s home. She’s comfortable there. And she knows everyone.
Hardesty herself is well known in town, especially among a certain kind of resident. She owns and runs a sewing supply store as a legitimate business. But she also has a side business. Women who’ve been abused know that they can count on Stella Hardesty to even the score. As she herself puts it at the beginning of the novel, Stella has never killed a man – well, except her husband (more about that later). But she can be – erm – very persuasive when she wants. Any man who gets into her sights gets a very unpleasant first visit from her, and if that’s not enough to make him leave his victim alone, things get more unpleasant very quickly. From Hardesty’s perspective, it’s a simple matter of sticking up for and defending women who have no-one else to turn to in their desperation. There’s only so much the police can legally do to prevent an abuser from striking again. Hardesty is not bound by those regulations.
As the story begins, Hardesty pays a ‘follow up visit’ to one of her ‘parolees,’ Roy Dean Shaw, to remind him of how he’s expected to behave. Thinking that she has the matter in hand, she goes on with her day. But the next day, she gets a visit from Shaw’s ex-wife Chrissy. It seems that Roy Dean has gone missing. What’s worse, he likely has Chrissy’s toddler son Tucker with him. That puts an entirely new light on the subject, and in an unusual move, Hardesty contacts Sheriff ‘Goat’ Jones, and tells him the story.
But Hardesty knows that the sheriff has to follow policy, and that might take too long if Tucker is in danger. So she works out her own plan to track down Shaw and find Tucker. She starts asking questions and, little by little, discovers that Shaw was likely mixed up with some extremely dangerous people. The more she learns about them, the less happy they are about it, and that’s dangerous enough in itself. But when she and Chrissy Shaw find out where Tucker likely is, they decide to take matters into their own hands. And that’s when things get even more dangerous. The two women will have to go up against a ruthless criminal gang with ties to some major cities. But they have their own resources, and there is nothing more ruthless than a mother trying to protect her child.
As I mentioned, there are some aspects of the novel that one doesn’t expect to see in real life: Hardesty’s ‘side business,’ for instance. And there are some scenes that ask the reader to ‘go along for the ride.’ Readers who like to keep their disbelief right next to them when they read will notice this. That said though, Hardesty doesn’t have superpowers. Neither does Chrissy Shaw. They find out information in ways you might expect, and they have their moments of vulnerability. After all, they are up against some very ugly, nasty people.
This book does address the theme of domestic abuse. Both women have endured their share of it, and as Hardesty’s business shows, they aren’t the only ones. But Littlefield doesn’t depict them as victims. To use the old expression, they don’t get mad; they get even. Hardesty, especially, is a force to be reckoned with and everyone knows it. In fact, that’s how her husband Ollie died (Here comes the part about the husband). Ollie Hardesty was an abusive alcoholic, and for years his wife put up with it. Until one day she didn’t any more. Ever since then, she’s been determined that no other woman will have to endure what she did. And now she has a network of grateful friends in many different places.
That said though, Hardesty is not a mindless vigilante. She genuinely hurts for the women and children who are still in abusive situations. And she doesn’t go to any unnecessary lengths to do what she does. It’s also worth noting that she’s not immune to the impact of violence. In a few scenes in the story, she is deeply disturbed by some things that happen. But at the same time, she’s no fool and she always likes to make sure she has the upper hand if she can.
As you can imagine, there is plenty of violence in this novel. Readers who like their violence to remain ‘off stage’ will notice this. Some of it is ugly, too, and unsettling. But it isn’t protracted, nor is it gratuitous (at least from my perspective).
The story is told from Hardesty’s perspective, in third person. So we learn quite a bit about her. She’s fifty, the mother of twenty-eight-year-old Noelle, from whom she’s somewhat estranged. She misses her daughter, but doesn’t obsess about it. She isn’t exactly svelte, and she does enjoy her Johnnie Walker Black. She’s not fashionable or wealthy. Readers who are tired of eternally young, model-like characters will appreciate that.
The novel takes place in rural Missouri, and Littlefield places the reader there. The physical geography is reflective of that area. So is the culture and so are many people’s ways of speaking. Readers who notice differences in dialect will notice this.
A Bad Day For Sorry is the story of one woman’s way of helping those who are vulnerable, and of what happens when she runs up against more trouble than she’d imagined. It takes place in a distinctive Ozark setting, and features characters who are very much products of that setting. But what’s your view? Have you read A Bad Day For Sorry? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 7 September/Tuesday 8 September – Berlin Game – Len Deighton
Monday 14 September/Tuesday 15 September – Drop Dead – Swati Kaushal
Monday 21 September/Tuesday 22 September – Friday the Rabbi Slept Late – Harry Kemelman