Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sweet Everlasting (A Book Review)

Jusdon Mitcham, The Sweet Everlasting (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 194 pages.

This is a well told story. Mitcham crafts his novel with vignettes from the life of Ellis which jump back and forth in time, from his childhood in the 1930s, his life as a young man in the 40s and 50s, and finally to his life in the present (in the 1990s).

Ellis was born in to Georgia sharecroppers. His parents never had much of a break, but as a young man, he gets one as he hires on at a cotton mill and soon becomes a mechanic, fixing the looms. He marries Susan, a beautiful woman. They have their fights, but mostly get along well. They are blessed with a child. Susan transforms their yard, around their little mill row house, into a garden of wildflowers. The garden is so well done that it eventually draws the attention of the Atlanta newspaper and the women of the local garden society. Over all, life is good. Yet Susan and Ellis are carrying a secret from their past. When the two of them share their secrets, it tears them apart. In a heated argument, their son runs out of the house and into the street and dies under the tires of a neighbor’s car. Susan leaves Ellis and he tries to commit suicide. His first attempt, burning himself to death, fails as he’s saved from the inferno. But the mill row houses are close together and other homes burn, the flames burning bad a neighbor woman and an explosion in the fire blinding a firefighter. After being released from the state mental hospital, Ellis spends six years and two months in prison. He’s released in 1960 and lives doing odd jobs, always regretting the fight he’d had with Susan. At the end of the book, thirty-five years later, he finds her. She’s in a nursing home, alone, with Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know him, but as he works in the home as a janitor, he continues to care for her, the woman he never stopped loving.

I enjoyed this book. Ellis is a good man with bad breaks. Reading the book, I found myself pulling for him as he struggles to do what is right. Mitcham paints a picture of life in the South during the 1940s and 50s, and does a good job of addressing the issue of race, which was always close to the surface. Although the book is not religious, Mitcham tackles the process of redemption. How does one live a life after having made a mess of things? Through Ellis, we’re shown one man’s struggle to do good despite his past.
Several years ago I reviewed another of Judson Mitcham's books, Sabbath Creek.


  1. Lordy but that one sounds like you should read it outside in broad daylight and in company. It certainly is not one for the dark winter's evenings with lowered serotonin levels.

  2. Sage, you always write the best book reviews!! I would like this one, I can tell.

  3. Southern fiction always has a greater resonance for me. I've found it to be the most compelling of regional literatures.

  4. I might just have to read this. Thanks for the review!

  5. nice. sounds like a fascinating book with a wonderful bit of inspiration as well...will check this one out!

  6. Vince, it's not that dark! I liked how the story ended, it gave me hope

    Kenju, thanks, it's a book most of us from the South can identify with

    Randall, I don't think any other area has such a regional style--except maybe the desert SW

    Lynn, it's set in your country!

    Brain, if you read it, let us know what you think.

    Monday, August 23, 2010 4:26:09 PM

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  7. Haven't read it. Not typically the kind of thing I look at but it sounds intersting.

  8. That's a good synapsis, Sage. So many things seem to happen in this book. Some tragedies too...

  9. I think once I get over the sadness and reach the part where he continues to love her in the future, knowing how he just keeps on keepin' on, I'd probably enjoy this book. Thanks for the review, Sage.

    PS - I just received Cloudia's book about the REAL Hawaii (from survival to satisfaction in a Honolulu taxi) and I can't wait to read it! Here's her blog, in case you want to pop in and check her out:

  10. Sage: What a rich story this is! Love and redemption come to my mind most immediately...a very human story that is surely absorbing!!

  11. The cover pulled me into your review. I am always in lookout for such good books.