Re-reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

During the break I’m taking from my novel, I’ve been doing some background research and reading books I remember loving throughout my life to see why they “worked,” so to speak. One of the things I quickly realized is I have a bit of a fetish for books that take place in the South, and a huge fetish for books that take place in the South and somehow work in the Catholic church. I also really adore end-of-the-world novels but that is neither here nor there, today.

The first book I decided to re-read is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (incidently she has a new book coming out this summer). I’m not sure when I first read this book but it was years ago, well before the movie came out, but I remembered it being an absolutely joyful read, a book I simultaneously didn’t want to end and couldn’t put down. Here is part of the blurb, in case you haven’t read it:

When Vivi and Siddalee Walker, an unforgettable mother-daughter team, get into a savage fight over a New York Times article that refers to Vivi as a “tap-dancing child abuster,” the fallout is felt from Louisiana to New York to Seattle. Siddalee, a successful theater director with a huge hit on her hands, panics and postpones her upcoming wedding to her lover and friend, Connor McGill. Vivi’s intrepid gang of lifelong girlfriends, the Ya-Ya’s, sashay in and conspire to bring everyone back together.

Actually a bit of a wet-blanket blurb – I remember the book being so much more than that.

At first, when I began re-reading, I wasn’t sure the book would hold up to that first read so many years ago. The first couple of chapters felt contrived, but I am now on page 81 and while reading it this time isn’t quite the magical read it was the first time, it is certainly helping me think through my own novel, which is the whole point, anyway. Thoughts so far…and if you haven’t read this and think you might, you might want to stop reading now…

1. The scrapbook Vivi lends Siddalee is actually what my professors would refer to as a writing “crutch” – the items in the scrapbook triggering the stories Wells chooses to tell. I have no problem with this and, in fact, have some discovered diaries in my novel, but they aren’t used to hold the book up in anyway. It’s possible I may choose to integrate them more fully into the the novel overall but I don’t know…the book isn’t all about those diaries, per se, you know?

2. Wells does an excellent job of integrating background information throughout scene, something I am pretty sure I failed to do in my first draft – upon rereading I imagine I’ll read a few pages of dialogue, then a few pages of scenery, then a few pages of summary.

3. Part of the reason I chose to reread this book is because I loved how Sandra Bullock, the actress who portrayed Siddalee in the movie – viewed her role. She said she was really around to channel the stories of the Ya-Ya’s, that she was more of a conduit through which the stories were told than a truly significant character. In the beginning of my novel I thought of Anna similarly but I now see that’s didn’t happen at all. The novel is all Anna, all of the time.

4. Wells tells her story basically in chronological order – I don’t think I did that in mine but I think maybe I should – mine has a chaotic feel to it.

5. The characterization in this novel is fantastic – I think one of my biggest challenges upon revision is going to be to cut pages of description and work on saying in one or two sentences what I said in a page.

So far re-reading from a more critical perspective is proving helpful in thinking through the revisions I’ll begin in late July. For now, I’ll leave you with one of the many great passages from this book:

Viz’tin. That’s what the Ya-Ya’s called their impromptu get-togethers when Sidda was a girl. The four Walker kids crammed into the T-Bird with Vivi, bombing into town to Caro’s or Teensy’s or Necie’s, pulling into the driveway, madly blowing the horn, shouting out “Yall better be home!” Then a batch of Bloody Marys appeared, and cream cheese with Pickapeppa and crackers, a gallon of lemonade and Oreos for the kids, Sarah Vaughan on the stereo, and a party. No planning, no calls in advance.

Okay…and this one, too…

These were the faces Sidda scanned for clues to the world from the moment she could see. She learned what clothes, movies, hair-styles, restaurants and people were “Ya-Ya” (read: charming) and which were “Ya-Ya-No” (read: pathetic). She had heard this so many times that she actually began to assess things to see whether they were “Ya Ya” or  “Ya Ya No.”

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6 Responses to Re-reading Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

  1. auntjone says:

    I listened to this on CD and LOVED it. I haven’t seen the movie, and probably won’t, because IMHO very few movies*ever live up to the books on which they are based.

    I think missed a lot, however, because I listened to it as I was driving and sometimes you have to pay more attention to the road than to the divine voice on your speakers. I loved the descriptions, and the craziness of the Ya-Yas, and how the group of women helped Sidda become who she is- for better or worse.

    * The LOTR triology and maybe the Johnny Depp-ized Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are two exceptions.

  2. litlove says:

    I really enjoyed this myself. The characterisation is divine and the vividness with which the scenes are conjured is excellent. It’s a couple of years since I read it but I can recall clearly still the scene where the girls skinny dip in the water tower, and the time they go and see Gone With The Wind, and the awful school Vivi is sent to…. It was such an evocative book, with this big, loving, generous mindset behind it.

  3. Emily Barton says:

    I read it years ago, too, and liked it, but I think I was a tad disappointed, because it was one of those books that people had raved about to me, and it seemed to be quite similar to a lot of other books I’d read. However, certain scenes have definitely stuck out in my mind, and I remember that the characterization was, as you say, really good. Interesting about “writing crutches,” like the scrapbook. I’d never thought of that.

  4. Courtney says:

    Aunt Jone – I definitely think my favorite part is how the ya-yas formed Sid – it’s really a lovely way to look at this group of otherwise fairly damaged women…
    Litlove – I think generous is the PERFECT way to describe this novel – it is, from start to finish, a very generous book. I am trying to decide, though, if that is how I would want mine characterized? I think so…
    Emily – it’s really hard when you hear a lot of hype to have a book stand up to it. That said, I just read a couple terrible chapters of this book – the writing was really bad. So I don’t think it’s just because of the hype that it was disappointing – there is some bad writing.

  5. ZoesMom says:

    I loved this book too. I think the strength and emotion of the story lets you gloss over writing issues, but I could see how a critical read would turn up some flaws.

  6. seplowingermany says:

    One of my very favorite books. I love the fact that it shows friendships through the good, the bad and the ugly and yet in the end they are there for each other.

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