Rumor Rules in “Small Town Rumors” by Carolyn Brown

I’m struggling with how to adequately convey both the positive and less than positive thoughts about “Small Town Rumors” by Carolyn Brown. Set in the small west Texas town of Bloom, the story chronicles Jennie Sue’s ignominious return to her hometown following her disgrace caused by a philandering, thieving husband who left her with little more than her clothes and a car, only to have those items seized by federal agents. And doesn’t the name “Jennie Sue” set your teeth on edge? Double names are supposedly a southern thing but I don’t recall even one other double-named character in this book.

Could this story get more trite? Unfortunately yes, it can and does. Up to and including a plethora of stereotypically quirky characters. One positive is Rick, Jennie Sue’s love interest and local produce farmer who also drives the bookmobile. He’s a former Army Ranger who is badly scarred from a run-in with an IED. Even with his emotional and physical scarring he’s more real than the others who are more caricatures than characters.

Jennie Sue is so sweet, so caring, so thoughtful, so hardworking, so, so, so…….. Yeah, she can get a little testy but with Charlotte for a mother, she could be a raving b**ch and it’d be completely justified but that doesn’t happen.

This story has a mid-twentieth century vibe, as if it’s set in the ‘50s or ‘60s but it’s supposed to be current time. Perhaps it’s a time warp. The plot is ostensibly Jennie Sue’s struggle for independence – kind of a later in life coming of age. Learning to fit in and be an active participant in life versus letting others decide what’s best for her, i.e. Mama, Daddy or former spouse. That part holds up reasonably well. But there’s a plot twist in the last half that skews thing off in another direction and it loses its authenticity. The dialogue tries hard to be southern folksy but it comes off mostly as just corny. The heart of the story is the small town rumor mill and this one is not merely hardworking, it has put in decades of overtime. It’s become a way of life. Not only accepted and condoned but actually promoted. Which strikes me somehow as just wrong.

Of all the Carolyn Brown books I’ve read, this one won’t make my favorites list, or even close. But as a craft, Brown’s writing style is impeccable. I wish I had more positive comments for this book but the characters were too folksy and too cutesy to be authentic. Jennie Sue in particular was not credible, and the plot lines were mostly unbelievable. There was less romance than I expected, some well done humor was sprinkled throughout, along with a measure of sadness and tragedy. And if you’re looking for angst, “Small Town Rumors” has it in spades. Three stars.

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