Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat (Moore)

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat
Edward Kelsey Moore, 20013
Knopf Doubleday
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307959928

Meet Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.
Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is home away from home for this inseparable Plainview, Indiana, trio.  Dubbed “the Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they weather life’s storms together for the next four decades. Now, during their most challenging year yet, dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair. And fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while contending with the idea that she has inherited more than her broad frame from her notorious pot-smoking mother, Dora.

Through marriage, children, happiness, and the blues, these strong, funny women gather each Sunday at the same table at Earl’s diner for delicious food, juicy gossip, occasional tears, and uproarious banter.

With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1960-61
Where—state of Indiana, USA
Education—B.M., Indiana University; M.M., State
   University of New York-Stony Brook
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois

Edward Kelsey Moore is an American musician and author. He received a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University, and a Master of Music degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook; his teachers included renowned cellists Janos Starker and Bernard Greenhouse. 

Music career
For more than two decades,Moore has been a professional musician performing with a number of midwestern orchestras, including the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Chicago Philharmonic, and the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra. He is also principal cellist of the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. He has played on many recordings, and toured nationally and internationally. In addition to performing, he has been a popular professor of music, training and nurturing a new generation of cello players.

Writing career
During Moore's high school years, and onward into college, he experimented with writing short stories. As he finished his education, he set writing aside and focused on building a career in music. Many years later, as a member of a string quartet, Edward was hired to perform at a reception for the winners of a local writing contest.  As he played background music Edward considered: "I could have sent in a story..."  It was an inspiring event and within a few weeks he began writing again.

His short fiction has been published in many literary magazines including Indiana Review, African American Review, and Inkwell.  His short story "Grandma and the Elusive Fifth Crucifix" was selected as an audience favorite from the Stories on Stage series produced by WBEZ in Chicago.  It was broadcast locally, and over National Public Radio. The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is Moore's debut novel, and he is currently writing his second book. (From the author's website.)

Read interview at BookPage.

Book Reviews
Edward Kelsey Moore knows how to write a terrific, complex, believable, and always intriguing story.
Zetta  Brown - New York Journal of Books

Funny and tenderhearted...Moore expertly combines tragedy and comedy in a way that feels fluid and natural, creating a world that is internally consistent and rich.... Perhaps the most remarkable quality of The Supremes is love—the author’s love for his characters, even the most flawed, shines from every page.
Ilana Teitelbaum - Shelf Awareness

The indefatigable trio of Barbara Jean, Clarice, and Odette (known as "The Supremes" since high school) churns the small community of Plainview, Indiana into a Southern-fried tailspin this debut from Moore, a professional cellist. Each of the central characters brings unique challenges to the tables at Earl’s diner: Odette battles cancer while her pothead mother communicates with famous ghosts; Clarice tries to salvage a crumbling marriage with her cheating husband; and beautiful Barbara Jean, who married for money, drinks to forget a youthful affair and her dead son. In a booth at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, a short walk from Calvary Baptist Church, these women lay bare their passions, shortfalls, and dramas.... Moore’s take on this rowdy troupe of outspoken, lovable women has its own distinctive pluck.
Publishers Weekly

In the mid-Sixties, three black teenage friends—Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean—start meeting at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, the first black-owned business in Plainview, IN. Watched over by Earl, they keep meeting there for 40 years. Comparisons to The Help, Waiting To Exhale, and Fried Green Tomatoes....
Library Journal

[T]hree close friends from Plainview, Ind., who, from their adolescence to their maturity, meet to gossip and consolidate their friendship at a local eatery....and they began calling themselves—and being called by others—the Supremes. The novel opens some 40 years after their salad days.... Through both Odette's narrative and a more neutral third-person perspective, we learn of the trio's personal problems and the rise and fall of their relationships. .... Throughout the Supremes' intertwined stories is one constant—meeting and eating at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, now run by his son Little Earl, a place where relationships are forged, scandals are aired and copious amounts of chicken are consumed. A novel of strong women, evocative memories and deep friendship.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. According to the author...

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is rooted in the fond memories I have of a childhood spent eavesdropping on the women of my family as they talked at family gatherings. Even when I was too young to fully understand the often very adult subject matter of their conversations, I was struck by how quickly the topics veered from heartbreakingly tragic to wildly hilarious.... My intention in writing The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat was to celebrate the joy of true friendship and to invite readers to remember the smart, funny and strong women in their lives.

Do you think Eward Kelsey Moore has accomplished what he set out to do? Does he, a man, convey the feelings of women accurately and convincingly? In what ways is he especially knowing about women’s feelings?

2. Odette was born in a sycamore tree. Barbara Jean was born on the wrong side of the tracks. Clarice was the first black baby to be born in an all-white hospital. How do the circumstances of each woman’s birth shape her choices as adult? Their interactions with one another? Their relationships with their husbands?

3. When things get tough for the Supremes, they often see the funny side of the worst moments. Moore has a lot of fun with cousin Veronica and her donut-eating daughter. In what other instances do the Supremes use humor to help them survive?

4. Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean are best friends, but they’re quite different. What is a defining moment in each of their lives?

5. Commenting on “the tender considerations that came with being a member of the Supremes,” Odette says: “We overlooked each other’s flaws and treated each other well, even when we didn’t deserve it” (p. 37). What other qualities make the friendship among the three women so extraordinary? In what ways do they help one another?

6. The chapters alternate between Odette’s voice and an omniscient third-person narrator. What is the effect of this in storytelling? Why does Moore choose Odette as a narrator rather than Clarice or Barbara Jean?

7. Ghosts appear throughout the novel. What does Odette’s mother’s voice add to the story? What kind of personality comes through? In what ways does she represent a voice of wisdom, and can this be helpful or aggravating to Odette?

8. One of Dora Jackson’s beliefs is that “what we call miracles is just what’s supposed to happen. We either go with it or stand in its way” (p.296). What seemingly miraculous events occur in the novel, and why do some characters choose to “go with it” and others “stand in [their] way”?

9. Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is the first black-owned restaurant in Plainview, Indiana. What role does place play in the novel, and how does the diner shape the lives of the main characters?

10. The Supremes grew up in tumultuous times. How was each one of them affected by the major social changes for African Americans, as well as for women, that occurred over the course of their lives?

11. How are the men who love the Supremes—James, Richmond, Lester, and Chick—each a reflection of the woman he loves? And what does each husband give to the woman in his life that she treasures, despite his failings?

12. Why does Clarice decide not to move back in with Richmond, even after he feels they’ve patched things up? What other changes do you see in Clarice after her separation from her husband, specifically in her relationship with music and religion?  Do you think she will follow her dream as a musician?

13. Do you think that after a life of hard knocks, Barbara Jean will finally find happiness with Chick? Or is she destined for more tough times ahead?

14. Whether alive or dead (or a ghost), the mothers of the Supremes play a major role in their daughters’ lives. As the Supremes grow older, how do their mothers continue to exert an influence on their adult lives? Who is hurt most by it? Who is helped by it? Who is most like her mother as she gets older?

15. Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean each attend three very different churches. In what ways did growing up in these particular churches help to shape them into women they ultimately became?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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