Cold Sassy Tree (Burns)

Cold Sassy Tree 
Olive Ann Burns, 1984
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780618919710

The one thing you can depend on in Cold Sassy, Georgia, is that word gets around—fast.

When Grandpa E. Rucker Blakeslee announces one July morning in 1906 that he's aiming to marry the young and freckledy milliner, Miss Love Simpson—a bare three weeks after Granny Blakeslee has gone to her reward—the news is served up all over town with that afternoon's dinner. And young Will Tweedy suddenly finds himself eyewitness to a major scandal.

Boggled by the sheer audacity of it all, and not a little jealous of his grandpa's new wife, Will nevertheless approves of this May-December match and follows its progress with just a smidgen of youthful prurience. As the newlyweds' chaperon, conspirator, and confidant, Will is privy to his one-armed, renegade grandfather's second adolescence; meanwhile, he does some growing up of his own. He gets run over by a train and lives to tell about it; he kisses his first girl, and survives that too.

Olive Ann Burns has given us a timeless, funny, resplendent novel—about a romance that rocks an entire town, about a boy's passage through the momentous but elusive year when childhood melts into adolescence, and about just how people lived and died in a small Southern town at the turn of the century. Inhabited by characters who are wise and loony, pious and deliciously irreverent, Cold Sassy, Georgia, is the perfect setting for the debut of a storyteller of rare brio, exuberance, and style. 

Cold Sassy Tree is the undeniably entertaining and extraordinarily moving account of small-town Southern life in a bygone era. Olive Ann Burns’s classic bestseller is a timeless, funny, and resplendent treasure. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Amy Larkin
Birth—July 17, 1924
Where—Banks County, Georgia, US
Death—July 4, 1990
Where—Atlanta, Georgia
Education—University of North Carolina 

Olive Ann Burns was an American writer from Georgia best known for her single completed novel, Cold Sassy Tree, published in 1984.

She was born in Banks County, Georgia. Her father was a farmer but was forced to sell his farm in 1931 during the Great Depression. The Burns family then moved to Commerce, Georgia. Burns attended Mercer University, where she wrote for the college magazine. Her sophomore year she transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in journalism.

Burns worked for the Atlanta Journal and wrote under the pseudonym "Amy Larkin". She married Andy Sparks, a fellow journalist. In 1971 Burns began writing down family stories as dictated by her parents. In 1975 she was diagnosed with lymphoma and began to change the family stories into a novel that would later become Cold Sassy Tree.

The novel was finally published eight years after it was begun, in 1984. Burns received so many letters pleading for a follow-up novel that she began writing Leaving Cold Sassy. Burns died of heart failure in 1990, at age 65, in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, before finishing the manuscript, and the uncompleted novel was published in 1992 along with her notes.  (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
(Pre-internet books have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

Ann Burns has cast her narrative in a dialect voice, which is always a gamble....The result is a narrative riddled with cliches.
New York Times

Rich with emotion, humor and tenderness.
Washington Post

One of the best portraits of small-town Southern life ever written.
Pat Conroy

Discussion Questions
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Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Cold Sassy Tree:

1. How would you describe Rucker? Do you consider him a shallow human being? What possess him to marry Miss Love so soon after burying Mattie Lou?

2. Do the reactions of family and friends toward Rucker's new marriage seem genuine to you...or do they ring hollow? What was your initial reaction...did it change over the course of the novel?

3. What is your attitude toward Miss Love? Do you find her, a Yankee living in the South, sympathetic?

4. How would you describe the relationship between Rucker and Miss Love? Do they love one first...eventually...never?   

5. The story is seen through the eyes of Will Tweedy. Why would the author have chosen a bare adolescent as narrator? Is Will's voice believable?

6. How would you describe life in Cold Sassy...especially the relationships among its citizens? Do you find small-town living, as described in the novel, appealing, even enviable...or judgmental and claustrophobic? 

7. Do small towns, like Cold Sassy, exist it possible given the speed, ubiquity, and distractions of modern telecommunications and travel?

8. Which episodes do you find most humorous...the Christmas play? What else?

9. What do you think of Burns's use of dialect? Does it enhance the novel's sense of place for you? Or do you find it distracting and irritating?

10. How does Burns present Christianity as practiced in a small town in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century? What do you think of Grandpa Rucker's sermon from his sick-bed?

11. Cold Sassy Tree is generally viewed as a coming-of-age story? What does Will come to learn, about the adult world and his place in it, by the end of the novel? In what way does he change? Do any other characters change?

12. What is the relationship between blacks and whites in Cold Sassy? Does Burns present African-Americans as fully developed characters...or stereotypes? Talk specifically about Queenie.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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