If you want to get a feel for how rural America, or at least the rural South lives, read Bette Lee Crosby’s Spare Change. It is not the pretty “village” story as life can be as hard or harder in the rural areas as it can be in the more urban locales, though for very different reasons. Time passes more slowly in the form of deeply entrenched customs, traditions, prejudices and biases. Like everything else in life, not all of the lack of the change is bad or good, but it is different. Some would say that rural life is the bedrock of this country. It can be a defining force as the recent presidential and congressional elections have shown.
Although the story is about Ethan Allen, an eleven year old boy that is on track to lose the chance at growing up slowly, Spare Change is also the story of an erstwhile “young” bachelorette, Olivia Westerly, who finally finds love only to lose it on her honeymoon. Unknown to her and Ethan Allen who loses his high-fluting flirt of a mother and farmer father in a tragic and violent double murder, the widow’s husband is Ethan Allen’s grandfather. All this is complicated by Ethan Allen having witnessed his parents’ murders.
The two stories, of Ethan Allen and that of Olivia start out separate and ultimately merge when Ethan Allen shows up on Olivia’s doorstep. As the investigation in Ethan Allen’s parents’ murders intensifies, the bond between Ethan Allen and the superstitious hater of the number 11 Olivia increases in proportion to the murderer’s quest to silence Ethan Allen. Both Olivia and Ethan Allen learn what it means for acts of small and sometimes random kindness, the act of paying forward, and what it means to be able to trust and depend on another person, even those they never knew existed until times of need.
I loved Bette Lee Crosby’s writing. It was authentic Southern grit.