Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Pamela Dorman Books, publisher (2010)
This month’s selection for the book club I belong to is Beth Hoffman’s first novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Some of what we discussed about the book will be shared today, but bear in mind that personal information about my fellow readers will not be given. Also, any ratings are mine, and not necessarily those of the club members. In order to put the review into the right context, it is beneficial to know that the book club is made up of women of a “certain age”. Most of us did not know each other prior to forming the group about a year ago, and new readers are joining each month. This tiny glimpse into the composition of the club serves as a reference point for some of the thoughts shared about Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.
Cecelia Rose Honeycutt (CeeCee) is a young preteen who has lived all of her life in a small Ohio town. Her story takes place during the 1960s. Although CeeCee has some magical memories of her mother from her very young childhood, as CeeCee matures, she realizes that her mother, Camille, is not “normal”. By the time she is twelve, Cecelia recognizes that there is something wrong with her mother’s mental health, and that other people can see this as well.
Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt is a transplanted Southern belle, whose greatest claim to fame was winning the title of Vidalia Onion Queen of 1951. Although watching beauty pageants is a guilty pleasure for millions, in some parts of the country, a woman’s entire identity often becomes determined by her success at achieving a beauty queen title. Mrs. Honeycutt finds it odd that “Yankees” do not place much importance on such achievements.
In fact, Camille feels that the Yankees of Ohio are cold people who live in cold weather, and feels terribly out of place away from her friends and family in Savannah, Georgia. Even when Camille is still somewhat sane, she is a free spirit in a land of conservative residents.
As her illness progresses, she spends more and more time and money purchasing used prom dresses (with dyed to match shoes, if possible) from Goodwill, and parades around town in her pageantry finery. In turn, her husband Carl, spends less and less time at home as a travelling salesman. It falls to young CeeCee to take on the role of parent to Camille, keeping her safe and bringing her home when she creates scenes in town. In time, CeeCee begins to resent her mother, and when tragedy occurs, harbors great guilt and remorse for her feelings.
Soon afterwards, Cecelia’s Aunt Tootie arrives from Savannah to take the young girl back to her mother’s hometown. CeeCee meets Tootie’s friends and relatives, and is drawn into a world dominated by unique, strong women characters. She is cared for by Tootie and her housekeeper, Olette.
Several of Tootie’s eccentric friends and family members show up to meet CeeCee, and introduce her to the warm and hospitable society of the South. Men are incidental to the story, and tend to be relatively weak characters.
Some of the points brought up by club members included a discussion about Cecelia being raised in a highly dysfunctional environment. Also, race relations are an important part of the story. Some incidents are fairly difficult to believe looking at the 1960s from the perspective of the 21st century. It was also mentioned that there are aspects of the movie Steel Magnolias and Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help in the book. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is described by some readers as “sugar coated” or too saccharin. However, most members felt that was part of the charm of the book. Hoffman’s novel is definitely a feel good tale, in spite of the terrible life that CeeCee experienced in Ohio.
thebooklookery’s rating for Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is four eyes, for the depiction of family life with untreated mentally ill members, and yes, also because it is a “feel good” novel. thebooklookery looks forward to future novels by author Beth Hoffman.