Review of ‘The Quaker Cafe’ by Brenda Bevan Remmes

Liz Hoole has been living with her husband, Chase, and her family in the small community of Cedar Branch in North Carolina for thirty odd years. Although not a Quaker by birth (not a ‘Birthright Quaker’) Chase’s family is and she has been absorbed in the Quaker community and adopted much of its teaching, most particularly its egalitarian outlook.

When Judge Kendall, the father of her beloved friend, Maggie, dies, people in the white Cedar Branch community – which includes the Quakers – are startled when Maggie, a Methodist, insists on holding a funeral service jointly with the black community church. This event, which occurs about a hundred pages into the book, at first seems like just another of the many sidetracks in this storyline, but, as the novel develops, it becomes pivotal, an enormous hook into incidents which occurred years ago and which explains why there are two communities in Cedar Branch, divided along racial lines. This is not ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ light, but an unique story in its own right, well told, well put together and convincing.  And thoroughly enjoyable.

Brenda’s understanding of Quakers is thorough and insightful, and illuminating; Grandpa Hoole in his open neck shirt and Grandma Hoole in her plain grey dress with her hair pulled back, with their distinctive attitudes towards silence, on no man showing deference to another, on alcohol and sweet potatoes, at first seem like cameos. However, actually, their conflicts with modern life, with modern temptations and the way the rest of us live ours are the story.

If I were to criticise, I would point out that the story took a long time to get into its stride, with many deviations: mc setting out to seduce her husband by appearing naked in front of the television when he was watching basketball, only to find his father sitting with him; her float at the Easter Pageant going all wrong in a way which ‘you had to be there’ to appreciate as humorous. Also the title, although catchy, did not really encapsulate the story. Characters, however, were likeable, and distinctive from each other, and the reader readily gets on their side.  ‘The Quaker Café’, a first book by this author, is thoroughly recommended.

I have just studied the results from the Word Play Short Story comp 2015 and see that I’m a finalist, although I didn’t win it.  I’m very happy to be a finalist.  Time was when entering any comp was a waste of time for me.  Thank you, Writers’ Dock, Chapter SeventyNine, Sally Quilford course, Anne Rainbow’s Red Pen and all the others who have helped me along my way.   Thank you also, Patsy, and Sharon from Kishboo, who congratulated me in Tweets.  Sorry not to respond earlier but, in the last week, I started teaching again for the first time in 6 months, do marking for my previous employer and and had to pack to go on holiday in India.

So far, I’m liking India very much, and the South Indian tandoori food even more than the country itself.  When we arrived yesterday, they put garlands around our necks.  See rather bad selfie below.  In fact, that selfie is far bad that I expect lots of you to stop following straight away!

Me wearing garland in Chennai.
Me wearing garland in Chennai.

I am writing this in bed, on my iPad, in Chennai, in the dark at about 5.30am. Having not slept at all on the plane on the way over here, I woke this morning at 3.30am with a terrible headache which I still can’t shift. I blame the air conditioning, which we switched off as we walked into out room, but still, some twelve hours on, it’s effecting my sinuses. A word in the ear of all people lucky enough to live in a warm climate – make the most of it. Do not turn up air conditioning in hotel rooms so they resemble a cold English house in February. I have come away on holiday to escape the real thing.

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5 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Quaker Cafe’ by Brenda Bevan Remmes

  1. Glad you’re enjoying Inda – hope to hear more about your travels.

    Why does everyone who sets air conditioning turn it so low? It happens here too – some places are far colder in summer than they are in winter.

  2. Sounds like a really interesting book — might take a look at that myself. Congratulations on making it into the final few of your comp! What was it exactly you had to do to get there? Nice to hear about your holiday adventures. I’m not good with heat myself: prefer a cooler climate, hence summer being my least favourite season.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Julie and Patsy. Am now back at home and preparing lessons again. ‘The Quaker Cafe’ was ace. Thoroughly recommend it.

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