Arthur Turfa has a fresh take on traditional Southern literature.
The Botleys of Beaumont County are such an important family that members carry the name of the county in their name, thus Slerd Beaumont Botley.
And as such welcome to the framework of Southern fiction, a space occupied by William Faulkner, Pat Conroy, Margaret Mitchell, and now Arthur Turfa, poet turned fiction author.
Change comes slow in Southern fiction: The themes of historic roots, family, the American Civil War, (which for some has never ended), religion, economic divisions, and racism, both subtle and overt, are as prevalent as barbeque, cornbread, sweet tea and country music.
It is a rich territory and in THE BOTLEYS OF BEAUMONT COUNTY, his first published novel, Turfa both honors these traditions and rips them apart.
Full disclosure: I read this manuscript in an early form. The published book is a far different writing than what I read.
The story opens in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as U.S. President, the first Black American so elected. Overlying the local happenings is the economic decline of 2008-09.
Turfa works the societal changes deftly in to the story: The Botley’s cement products factory is in trouble, local businesses face failure, racial incidents at the local school, turmoil in the once steady local churches.
As such the story reflects the times of 2008-09, but also shines a light on America of 2021.
At the center is the Botleys, proud, heroically Southern, and a flaming mess of a family.
Turfa details these changes through the eyes of, first Slerd Botley, successful local attorney, decorated Army veteran and family patriarch, and his teen-age daughter Ashley Violet Botley.
Slerd is a fixer, trying throughout the book to solve numerous social and family problems, including his failing marriage. But in his own way Slerd is numb to the building trouble because as a fixer he sees the concerns at times only as issues to be solved through logic and influence.
He is also distracted by his burgeoning affair with Jessica Sinclair Cavendish, his high school sweetheart.
The relationship is central to the hierarchy of the story: She is from the wrong side of town, from the wrong family and their deep attraction is the key that opens the secrets of the story.
Offering a different view is Ashley, whose observations are scattered as asides. Whereas her father Slerd muddles through, one foot trapped in tradition, Ashley breaks those bonds and through her eyes the reader grasps the changes that are coming to Beaumont County.