on April 1, 2000
If you read "Little Altars Everywhere", you will be glad to know that "Divine Secrets" takes a look at the life of Siddalee Walker from the distance of heavily analyzed adulthood. "Divine Secrets" focuses once again on Siddalee, but this time she is a 40-year old successful stage director who is taking some time out from her career and her love life to put to rest some old ghosts.
After having humiliated her mother in national print (a New York Times reporter calls Viviane Walker "a tap dancing child abuser"), Siddalee is gifted with her mother's scrapbook, which, in Vivane Walker's typically outrageous style, has been named "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood". Viviane sends Siddalee this volume of personal mementos in an effort to have Siddalee understand her better without having to put any personal effort into the process.
Inside this scrapbook, Siddalee discovers bits and pieces of her mother's past - pictures, newspapaer articles, mementos - but she is not granted the entire story surrounding each of these titilating fragments. The reader is able to learn, through Viviane's own memory, all of the interesting details that Siddalee doesn't get to know.
This, I feel, is the greatest weekness in "Divine Secrets". The reader gets to see Viviane as a child and an adolescent, living in a home where she is abused by her father and openly detested by her mother. We learn about the death in WWII of Viviane's first and only love and the stresses put on her by having four stair-step children and an absentee husband. Siddalee, however, is not privy to any of this information. She reads tantalizing tidbits in newspaper articles, gleans what meaning she can from photographs, party invitations, and mysterious keys, but never knows any of the details the reader does. Because of this, it is difficult for me to believe that in the end of the novel Siddalee can forgive Viviane her many transgressions. It doesn't seem to me that she has enough information to be that magnanimous.
Other than this one flaw, "Divine Secrets" is a beautiful book. The women in this novel are fully realized characters - I recognized each one of these women, and even grew up with some of them (but not all of them together, thank goodness!). The descriptions of Louisiana are rich and detailed, and as much as I hate a crustaceon, I was dreaming of crawfish for days after turning the last page.
"Divine Secrets" is about forgiveness and the power of love. Rebecca Wells is brave to offer up a novel filled with women who are real enough to not always be likable (in fact, Viviane is almost never likable), and she is a talented enough word smith to keep these women sympathetic. "Divine Secrets" is a soothing, redeeming follow up to "Little Altars", and I recommend it. Throw some Zydeco on the stereo and curl up with a cup of java - this one will keep you up all night!
I had resisted this book for a long time because the title seemed silly. But I'd heard from several people that it was a good book, and I was ready to read what I thought might be light and frothy entertainment. I was immediately caught up in the story, however, and soon discovered that this was not a light book at all.
Sidda, who was brought up in Louisiana is, at age 40, is a successful theatrical director who has a falling out with her mother, Vivi, when she reveals too much of her childhood in a New York Times interview and her mother is depicted in print as a "tap dancing child abuser". Sidda is so deeply upset by this that she postpones her upcoming wedding and goes off to an island off the coast of Seattle to be alone. Her mother sends her a copy of a scrapbook entitled "The Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and gradually Sidda discovers more and more about her mother as well as about herself.
The four women who call themselves the Ya Yas developed their friendship as children in the 1930s and have been friends ever since. They've kept their friendship through their teenage years in the early forties, their marriages and motherhood in the 50s and have continued their friendship right up to the present, being there for each other through a lifetime of living.
The story is really Vivi's story though, and the place of the three friends in this novel is of important, but yet supporting players. With ultimate skill, the author brings the reader into the deep south. There's humidity and sweet smelling flowers; there's love and cruelty; there's the inequality of the racial relationships, there's funny and poignant stories; there's deep characterization. And, most of all there is friendship between the Ya Yas.
Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. I wanted to know what happened next. I wanted to learn more and more about Vivi. The structure of incident and flashback worked for me. And I found myself getting into the skin of a Scarlet O'Hara-type character who I might not like if I met on the street. She's a complex person. And VERY imperfect. And that is where the strength of this book lies.
After all the hype and comparisons to 'Steel Magnolias', 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood', sadly, did not do much box office, which was a shame, as it is a more intimate, realistic vision of women and life-long friendships than the glossier 'Magnolias'.
Four girl friends in Louisiana create a secret sisterhood in 1937, swearing eternal devotion to each other, and they remain best friends through all the triumphs and tragedies in their lives. When the daughter of one of them (Sandra Bullock), a successful playright, has an interview with Time magazine in which she blasts her mother's impact on her life, the mother (Ellen Burstyn, who is superb!) goes ballistic, cutting the daughter out of her life, totally. Into this maelstrom charges the other members of the Sisterhood, kidnapping Bullock, and attempting to make things right!
The film then jumps back and forth in time, with Ashley Judd (who gives an Oscar-worthy performance) playing the younger Burstyn. She has a lot of happy adventures with her Ya-Ya sisters, but also has to deal with racism, a jealous religious zealot of a mother, an overly loving father (David Rasche, breaking free of his usual comic roles), a true love who dies in WWII, and a family with a guy she 'settles' for (played, in present day, by the wonderful James Garner). There is also a dark secret that is the core of the mother/daughter alienation, which must be dealt with in order for the rift between Bullock and Burstyn to heal (No, I will NOT give it away!)
If you do the math about the years covered, you realize the present-day story SHOULD be taking place in the early nineties, at the latest, but this doesn't hurt the overall effectiveness of the picture. As the other present-day sisters, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, and (especially) Maggie Smith are WONDERFUL, as is Angus MacFadyen, as Bullock's sympathetic and likable fiance.
While this is unabashedly a 'chick flick', something I really liked was that they DIDN'T fall back on that old chestnut of somebody dying to serve as a convenient catalyst for change and the healing process. And the dialog is full of wickedly hilarious one-liners about men, alcohol, friendship, and growing old!
Don't miss this gem!
on June 5, 2002
This book is a great story about female friendship and motherly love and the possible problems that may arise in both. I have a very strong relationship with my mother and few female friends, which is mostly the opposite setting of the main character of this book. Regardless, I found myself relating to many of the characters and living their lives. It is a very touching book filled with a wide range of emotions - it made me cry, a rare occasion for me while reading books. I recommend this to anyone interested in getting in touch with her feminine side. It'll make you appreciate all the women in your lives that much more.
Two words that sum up this marvelous work of literature by Rebecca Wells: simply divine. I read this book on an airplane simply to pass the time, and found myself engrossed in a charming, quirky, and delightful romp of four of the most richly drawn women I have met in literature in a long time.
Wells manages to capture the incorrigible spirit of each of the "Ya-Ya's" and their dynamics are wonderful. Their complex, supportive group is a real entity, as real as the characters that created it. The most rich character of the bunch is Vivi, whom you both love and fear. She is a tornado in the Louisana swamps, and her antithesis is her much-confused daughter Sidda. It's Sidda and Vivi's relationship that lies at the heart of this book. Through Vivi's life, Sidda learns and relearns some important lessons in life that allow her to continue forward. By looking back, it helps sets her future.
What could have been merely a fun romp turns out to be dripping with personal nuggets of honesty. With each turn of the page, you laugh, you cry, you contemplate. Divine Secrets is surprisingly full of divine secrets, and discovering them is half the fun.
Take it from a guy who loved this book: don't delay, put this book on your summer reading list, and then enjoy the movie.
on May 15, 2000
The spicy aroma of Creole and Cajun cooking wafts through the air as four young friends, Caro, Necie, Teensy, and Vivi, all connected by their divine sisterhood, swing on the porch of a grand Southern home. Years later and half way across the country, Siddalee, Vivi's daughter, sits on another porch deep in the Northwest rainforest and so their stories begin. Wells' novel explores the complex personal relationships that we all experience in our lives. Throughout the book, Wells' reveals the lives and memories of both Siddalee and her mother, Vivi . Descriptions of the characters are quite vivid and stay with you long after the book is read. You become a part of the sisterhood with Wells' storytelling. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood tells a wonderful account of growing up in the South. We read of deep-rooted friendships, the complexity of being in love, and mother-daughter relations. The unconditional love amongst girlfriends is the most wonderful you'll ever read about. Mix a mint-julep and enjoy your trip to bayou country.
on March 20, 2000
This book and the companion to it, "Little Altars Everywhere" are beautifully crafted, real and funny. I'm amazed that some reviewers found the characters "shrill alcoholics". Wells' brutally honest characterisation of the Ya Ya's: all their flaws, their pain, their unfulfilled dreams, made me like and admire these women - not dislike them for being flawed; for being human.
I found the Ya Ya's inspirational in their love and acceptance of each other; their enduring friendship and spirit. Sure, these women were dysfunctional even before we had a name for it but they got on with life, they raised more than a dozen children between them (who wouldn't need a drink!), and even had some laughs along the way.
At the core of this story is the familiar theme of mothers and daughters: a relationships that is so complex and at times, drainingly difficult. Accepting that mothers are not perfect; or have had perfect lives, marriages; and realised all their dreams is part of seeing your mother for who she really is and this is where Wells gets us to.
If you're a fan of Gone With The Wind you are in for an extra special treat - the reportage from a 10 year old Vivi to her friend from opening night of Gone With The Wind in Atlanta is simply laugh out loud gorgeous. In fact you'll probably want to read it out loud to someone so you can really enjoy it!
Finally I would suggest that if you find you love this book buy it for a special friend - if they also love it I suspect you have yourself a Ya Ya sister who simply put, "gets it".
on August 2, 1999
"Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" was my summer vacation read and kept me up 'one-more-chapter'-ing until 3 and 4 in the morning. That is how engrossed I became in the story and how much I couldn't wait to see what came next! I especially adored the Ya-Yas themselves. They are flawed, as we all are, even painfully so. But their history together, their zest for life, and their enduring, lifelong friendship and unfailing loyalty to one another are inspiring. Girlfriends can be your salvation, and for Vivi, Caro, Necie and Teensy they are. Through thick and thin, triumph and tragedy, they rely on each other when there is no one else they can rely on.
It occurred to me toward the end that as a reader of the book I had much more insight into the Ya-Yas' history than Sidda had paging through the scrapbook and trying to piece it together. Rebecca Wells brought these characters and their story to life for me; her theater background is very much in evidence, and I look forward to her future works. I am nearing the end of the prequel, "Little Altars Everywhere", and must share that I am glad to have read the "Divine Secrets" first. Knowing Vivi's early history and the many pains she endured makes a person regard her with more sympathy than might otherwise be possible in the face of some of the horrible things she does as a hugely unhappy adult. But Dahling, if you seek "Re-Vivi-fication" get the "Divine Secrets" tout de suite! And Yall be sure to share the Secrets with your own Ya-Ya sisters, now.
on June 14, 2000
Family is a cross most of us have to bear. We can't choose which set of relatives we're plopped down in the midst of to either sink or swim. Some of us are compelled to raise our adult selves to be the people we always meant to be. If we are very, very lucky, we will have a collection of Ya-Ya's to help us along the way.
This book, as it explores the tortured relationship between the reserved Siddalee Walker and her flighty, melodramatic mother Vivi Abbott Walker, is pure magic. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood are Vivi and her 3 best friends from childhood in their small Louisiana town, whose children are known as the petites ya-ya's. Sidda, now a New York theatre director, spends a small fortune on therapy before perusing her mother's old scrapbook titled Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and discovering the strength and insight to make sense of not only her own life but her mother's.
The Ya-Ya sisterhood -- Vivi, Necie, Caro, and Teensy -- have remained as close and loving with each other as many blood sisters for over half a century. When Sidda at age 40 is having something of a mid-life crisis and postpones her wedding because she is convinced she doesn't know how to love, it is the Ya-Ya's who travel cross-country to support her and give her the ammunition to stand up and see things the way they are. Mama Vivi, meanwhile, isn't speaking to her daughter because of an interview Sidda gave the New York Times which happened to mention child abuse. Every word was true, but Vivi has disowned her.
The book chronicles the loves and losses, wisdom and idiosyncracies, and joys and sorrows which have made the Ya-Ya's and their children who they are. You will laugh out loud and you may shed a tear or two as you follow the journey of these strong and wonderful women who do things THEIR way. This is a book best savored -- read a chapter or two, then put it down and think about it before continuing. While these particular Ya-Ya's are Southern, thank God there are Ya-Ya's everywhere!
on August 18, 2000
YaYas are overly dramatic, histrionic and indisputably hysterical. The Sisterhood captures the message and the magic of long-time faithful friendship between women, in a fun and high spirited celebration - through good times and dark ones. Artistically composed, this poignant book is written from the perspective of a ya-ya offspring seeking balance in that delicate mother-daughter love-hate rivalry, with some serious childhood issues. But what a fun time the reader gets to have on this journey with the wild and crazy ya-yas. Having a crazy southern mother of your own will provide a certain intuitive head start, but is not absolutely necessary. The story is magical, joyful and (at times) heart-breaking. From a Shirley Temple look alike contest gone terribly amiss, to racial issues, child abuse, alcoholism, war, and the dysfunction of every family, it's a step back in time and place and a journey you will not be sorry you have made. After finishing the book, I had to listen to the abridged audio - performed (rather than read) by the author. The audiobook is distilled into a sequence of related short-stories and is so bewitching both in its content and its delivery that you'll feel the glee of the YaYas right inside your heart, along with the gentle caresses of the Moon Lady - you will truly become a part of the sisterhood.
I would highly recommend BOTH the book and the audio.