I have read the 40th book for the book challenge. It was The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore.
Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean have been known as The Supremes in Plainview, Indiana since they were in high school. They are still The Supremes, even though they are in their 50s and they have their own table by the window at Big Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. Every Sunday after church they get together with their husbands for dinner there and discuss life in Plainview.
In a narrative form, in a series of flashbacks, and in Odette’s words the story of The Supremes is told. The flashbacks tell how The Supremes came into being. The three girls became inseparable after the death of Barbara Jean’s mother. They were to dress as The Supremes to go to a Halloween party and Odette and Clarice went to Barbara Jean’s house to take her her dress and wig. Her drunken step-father was menacing her and would not let her go. The man was abusing Barbara Jean physically and sexually. But Odette attacked the man and threatened him, saying that if he didn’t leave Barbara Jean alone that they would go to the police. They took Barbara Jean with them and Big Earl took Barbara Jean into him home and gave her a safe place to live. The girls were forever The Supremes after that.
Barbara Jean developed feelings for the pretty white boy, Ray “Chick” Carlson who worked for Big Earl at the All-You-Can-Eat. She knew that it was dangerous but she couldn’t help it. She would sneak out at night to be with him. Interracial dating was something that wasn’t allowed at that time. And his brother Desmond was already wild that his brother was working for black people. If he knew that his brother was seeing a black woman, there would be no telling what he would do. In the meantime, Barbara Jean was also seeing an older gentleman, Lester Maxberry. Clarice was dating Richmond, a football player at the university, and they often met together at the All-You-Can-Eat. James Jackson was working for Lester and he was interested in Odette.
Then Barbara Jean told Chick that she knew she could never marry him, even though he kept saying they could go north to Chicago or Detroit. The riots after Dr. King’s death showed her that no place was safe. Chick suddenly left the All-You-Can-Eat. Chick was gone. Then Barbara Jean discovered she was pregnant. And Lester then asked Barbara Jean to marry him. Barbara Jean told him she was pregnant with Chick’s baby but Lester was all right with that. He said he would love and care for her and the baby. So they married and she had Adam. Eventually Clarice and Richmond married, and so did Odette and James.
When Adam was six, he was hit and killed by a truck driven by Chick’s brother Desmond. No one knows if Desmond did it on purpose or not. But Chick was in town at the time working with his birds. Barbara Jean was distraught and went to Chick. She told him if he loved her and their child, he would kill his brother. The next day, Desmond was found with face his face blown away and Chick was gone. Barbara Jean began to drink heavily and would continue to drink for many years.
When the book opens, Odette is having hot flashes and is seeing her mother. The problem is that her mother is dead. But she is having conversations with her. Her mother, when she was alive, also had conversations with dead people. As the book continues, she continues to have more conversations with her mother and Big Earl, who has died, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Miss Thelma, Big Earl’s wife. Odette has been diagnosed with cancer and at first she doesn’t want to tell anyone. She thinks she will just go through treatments without telling anyone, but she realizes she needs to tell her husband and friends. They go with her to treatments. Chick comes to one treatment and sees Barbara Jean there.
Clarice has been playing her piano more and more as Richmond has been cheating more and more. She is at the end of her rope and finally decides that she has had enough. She asks Odette if she can rent Odette’s mother’s house in Leaning Tree and moves her piano and some furniture into the house and lives on her own in the little bungalow there. Odette continues to decline, but Odette and Clarice also pressure Barbara Jean to join AA because her drinking is totally out of control since Lester has died. Clarice is now supposed to be planning her cousin’s daughter’s wedding which she isn’t thrilled about but which she has agreed to do along with giving piano lessons.
Barbara Jean is working with AA and her sponsor hears her story of how she told Chick to kill his brother. Her sponsor tells her she must contact Chick and make amends to him for this. The Supremes and Richmond, who is now being faithful to Clarice, and James, attend the wedding of Sharon, Clarice’s cousin’s daughter. Clarice was removed as wedding planner when she told her cousin Veronica that she saw the groom having sex with a prostitute in Odette’s mother’s gazebo. At the wedding, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The groom’s mother was stung by a bee and went into shock. Then the trained doves were snatched by a hawk. Then the police came in and handcuffed and arrested the groom. As The Supremes were leaving, Odette collapses and is rushed to the hospital where it is discovered she has an infection.
Odette is in grave condition at the hospital. She is in a coma and there is little hope for her recovery. Clarice and Barbara Jean are there, her pastor is there, her children are there, but she is conversing with her mother and the other dead people. She fights her way back to consciousness to tell her husband James that their old schoolteacher is lying dead in her house and he’d better go see to her body. She finally admits that she’s been talking to dead people. Then when everyone but Richmond has gone, she gets Richmond to take her back to her mother’s house. She wants to die at the sycamore tree where she was born. But Richmond places her at a walnut tree instead. Then Odette realizes that she’s not going to die at all and has Richmond take her back to the hospital after all.
Barbara Jean goes to Chick to make amends. Chick tells her that he did not kill Desmond. Desmond had already been killed when Chick went to him. Apparently Desmond’s girlfriend’s father killed him for beating her up. Barbara Jean declares her love for Chick and he says that he loves her.
The book ends with Odette getting better and all The Supremes and their men meeting on Sunday after church at the All-You-Can-Eat. There is more exciting. Big Earl’s second wife Minnie, who predicted she would follow Big Earl in death within a year, is on the roof of their house in her fortune-telling gown threatening to jump and make her prediction come true. Sharon, the jilted bride, is screaming at Minnie for her bad predictions and clutching a large box of donuts on the grass below. Minnie falls and lands on Sharon and on Little Earl. No one is badly injured. All is well that ends well.
I really enjoyed this book. I really cared about the characters. The Supremes are all very likable and funny, each in her own way. I really could relate to Odette with her conversations with her mother. I often have “conversations” with my mother. It is very comical to have Odette having interactions with Eleanor Roosevelt, however. Clarice is a very sympathetic character, and you really feel for her. Barbara Jean is also a person who has seen so much trouble. You understand why she drinks. And you hope that she can beat her alcoholism. The writing is splendid. Plainview really comes to life with Moore’s pen.