A Room with a Review and a Pumpkin Cheesecake

I shared a sentence of author Rick Neumayer’s review of Southern-Fried Woolf the other day with you. I am incredibly honored that he spent such time with my writing. It’s hard work, reviewing a book (I did it for a publication for a time and discovered I prefer reviewing books on my own time and dime), and I am so pleased to have someone give such careful attention to my novel. Below, I am including excerpts of the rest of his review, but not before we talk about pumpkin cheesecake!

This morning’s project was preparing the aforesaid pumpkin cheesecake, baked for a family gathering tomorrow. I’ve never baked this before, and it looks a bit splotchy to me, so I have my doubts about it… I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. (My photos of it don’t want to load. I’m taking that as a sign not to share an image of my efforts here. I hope it tastes okay.)

A friend of ours in Nashville brought this cheesecake to our house for Friendsgiving dinner one year. The poor guy has since passed on, so I have created only a loose interpretation of what I remember his recipe to be. And I couldn’t for the life of me find one of his “secret” ingredients, despite hunting the internet and sending my dearest on a grocery store scavenger hunt. So here’s hoping.

Another holiday staple: my KitchenAid stand mixer, pictured below, that Barry reminded me today I have owned for nearly 25 years! He bought it for me for Christmas one year (I asked for it; we don’t buy one another practical gifts unless requested).

It’s a workhorse and I could not imagine my kitchen without it. This may be strange to say, but I’m fond of it. I’m not saying I do have a pet name for it, but I’m not saying that I don’t.

I used vanilla in the cheesecake today, and I had to dig out a new bottle, tiny in comparison with those Barry used to bring home from his business trips to Mexico. He would bring me what I would swear were quart-sized bottles of the pure stuff that he bought for $2 a bottle! One would literally last me years.

What I did not use in my version of the cheesecake today was cloves, something many things pumpkin boast. While I will eat a dish (or drink tea) that contains cloves if I must, I do not myself cook with them, and I avoid them whenever possible. This stems from happening upon an apple pomander in my parents’ coat closet when I was a child. The smell struck me in the lungs and I thought I’d never shake the pungent scent. I identified it again not too long after when my dad made our Christmas ham, and I wondered how this strange spice had come to take over our house.

Here is an excerpt of Rick’s wonderful review of SFW. I hope it tempts you to take a closer look at my forthcoming book. My biggest ambition with this novel is to acquaint those who might not be familiar with Woolf’s work with it, and to entertain those who already are. You have no idea of the years and iterations involved in the final result.

“Drema Drudge’s Southern-Fried Woolf is an uproariously funny, deeply insightful, and engagingly complex novel on many levels. To use the writer’s own metaphor, the story consists of two tangled, loosely coiled, and knotted threads that defy simple explication. It will be best understood as a yarn of separate skeins whose meaning is not so much clearly defined as left implicit.

Although not strictly a stream of consciousness style, Southern-Fried Woolf reflects to some degree Virginia Woolf’s acclaimed experimental method of narration. Drudge’s novel depends heavily on Briscoe’s interiority, which is wildly emotional and nonlinear…

Many other characters in Southern-Fried Woolf (also the title of Briscoe’s thesis) are nuanced and entertaining, with foibles, eccentricities, and the ability to rationalize the abominable and the unpardonable. In Michael Chambers, for example, we are given a portrait of the worst possible kind of country-rock star, a man whose only redeeming qualities are his musical talent and primitive charisma. Velvet Wickens, on the other hand, the whimsically drawn aging country diva, is so self-involved and predatory she seems unable to see anything not filtered through cornpone sentimentality and her own self-interest. There are many others who enliven the tacky tapestry of the Nashville music scene. The city itself is like a character in the book and we can’t help but recognize its bumpy trajectory from hick town to hick metropolis.

Despite being driven nearly mad by her husband’s peccadilloes and her own self-loathing, Briscoe continues attempting to complete her highly ambitious graduate thesis, which is on Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. Ironically, Briscoe worries about using the word madness in relation to Woolf because= it can be seen as making light of mental illness. While a single word choice perhaps should be the least of her worries, she does find some solace in reflecting on Woolf’s work, which makes her dislike her own life “a little less and find it deserving of examination.”

Referring to Woolf’s book as a failed attempt at a novel-essay, Briscoe nevertheless admits being thrilled by the complexity of Woolf’s “sentences and point-of-view shifts” that raise the novel’s mundane subject matter to a worthy level of scrutiny. We learn during a flashback that Briscoe’s obsession with Woolf began during childhood, when she discovered she was named after a character in To the Lighthouse. At age 12, Briscoe asked her mother to read the book to her. This was during a visit to a decommissioned forest fire tower in West Virginia, where her mother fled after abandoning the family. Julia Jenkins supposedly went there on a grant to finish her own book on Woolf, but never came back.

After first reading To The Lighthouse, Briscoe claims she read it six more times because a single reading wasn’t enough to appreciate the novel’s “intricacy and cleverness.” Nor to understand it on a basic plot and character level apparently; such is the downside of stream of consciousness. With characteristic humor, Drudge has Briscoe recall that she was in high school before (she) realized Woolf wasn’t her own subject like Science.

Doubtless there is much more to be said of this rich, relevant, and riveting novel, as well as many conclusions to be drawn from all this as to its meaning. But in the spirit of Woolf and Briscoe, I think I would prefer to wait until I have re-read Southern-Fried Woolf the requisite six more times.” — Rick Neumayer, author of Journeyman and Hotwalker

Again, my deepest gratitude to Rick. If you get a chance, check out his books. They are engrossing reads full of atmosphere, place, and heart.

P.S. Hubby’s fill-in gig last weekend went great! I’m hoping to post about it tomorrow, but time…hint: there was dancing (not by him)! Right now Barry’s watching previously unseen footage of The Who at Woodstock, so he’s a pretty happy camper. He’s also telling me he does not play like Pete Townsend. I said he’d better not; I’ve seen how Townshend’s hand bleeds after those windmills.

And yesterday, we watched the documentary If These Walls Could Sing, directed by Mary McCartney, which seems like a documentary that should have already existed. Not many of us have baby pictures of ourselves in Abbey Road. She does. It’s worth a watch if you’re interested in the history of recording and/or Abbey Road.

The happiest of weekends to you!

Drēma

Copyright 2022, Drema Drudge, all rights reserved.

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