The Quaker Café
With a Southern charm all its own, Brenda Bevan Remmes’s debut novel opens with an ominous conversation about where to bury a body. In 1992, within the confines of a small Southern town deep in Quaker roots and still mired in racial tension, this decision wasn’t an easy one to make. Liz Hoole is the wife of Chase, a birthright Quaker who had been away from his hometown just long enough to get a degree, meet Liz and marry her. He has always felt like she was straddling two different worlds: the modern one where she was born and raised, and the Quaker-influenced world to which Chase had introduced her. With four boys of their own, Liz was a spirited liberal who often felt like a fish out of water, especially when it came to getting her mother-in-law’s approval.
"Remmes’s story will have readers intrigued in part because much of her tale surrounds the Quaker beliefs in a modern-day world. She presents her characters in life’s funniest yet vulnerable situations, and allows them to work through their challenges page by colorful page."
Not that it daunted Liz too much; she had the support of her husband, her boys, some wonderful girlfriends, and a possible budding career in politics. As an always sort of outsider, Liz could see things that folks who were born and raised in Cedar Branch couldn’t detect. Which is why, after the untimely death of Judge Corbett Kendall, father of Liz’s friend, Maggie, and once the funeral was over and done with, Liz felt responsible for Maggie’s welfare when she sensed something was amiss. Once Maggie’s diagnosis was made public and she needed a bone marrow transplant, Liz went to work in earnest to locate someone who might fit the bill.
It’s interesting how old sins find themselves out even after decades have passed, and Liz was front and center when the truth came out that Judge Kendall turned out not to be Maggie’s biological father. Someone else was, and that person was close kin to Liz. As Liz continues to put the pieces together, from tidbits of old gossip to fresh new evidence, she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a potentially explosive feud that could explode the always-simmering racial tension. Liz discovers the truth behind an old mystery that had ripped through Cedar Branch many years ago. If the truth was told, it could do the same today.
Liz ponders and frets about how to approach the information she is privy to when the unlikeliest suspect of all confesses to her about his past. She realizes that even those who live by the peaceable Quaker faith can have skeletons in their closets that would bring anything but peace to those around them. As Liz reckons with her newfound information, she finds herself asking hard questions with few answers.
Remmes’s story will have readers intrigued in part because much of her tale surrounds the Quaker beliefs in a modern-day world. She presents her characters in life’s funniest yet vulnerable situations, and allows them to work through their challenges page by colorful page.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on April 24, 2014