Monday, July 18, 2016

"Last Ride to Graceland"

Kim Wright is the author of Love in Mid Air, The Unexpected Waltz, and The Canterbury Sisters. A two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, she has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty years for magazines such as Wine Spectator, Self, Travel & Leisure, and Vogue. She also ballroom dances competitively.

Wright applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last Ride to Graceland, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I look around the room, trying to imagine it years ago. The colors bright and unfaded, the music loud. The smell of grease and pot mingling in the air and Elvis on a bar stool holding court. The absence of chairs. His listeners must have clustered around him on the floor, sitting at his feet like the apostles of Jesus, and maybe it felt good after the big stages and venues to sneak away to a little nothing place like this and shake the glitter off. I have a million questions to ask this man but I blurt out "Did my mother smoke weed?"

He laughs again, but it's a genuine laugh this time, not a bitter one.

"You want the truth?"

"You know I do."

He spits on the floor. Puts the sunglasses back on. "Then I'll give you want you say you've come for," he says. "Your mother was a wild child. She did it all and she did it all the time."

And with that, the air seems to go out of the room.
Last Ride to Graceland opens with Cory Beth Ainsworth finding a car in an abandoned fishing shed on her family's property in Beaufort, South Carolina. But it isn't just any car. It's the Stutz Blackhawk that Elvis Presley drove on the last day of his life and it's been hidden in that shed for thirty-seven years, cocooned in bubble wrap.

Cory Beth's mother Honey, who'd died of breast cancer a few months earlier, had lived most of her life as a small town church choir director. But when she had been nineteen, Honey had spent a single year as a backup singer for Elvis. In fact, she had been at Graceland when he died, but she had always refused to talk about that day - especially about the fact Cory Beth had been born a mere seven months after Honey's return from Memphis.

The car seems like the perfect chance to get some answers. Cory Beth decides on the spot to drive it back to Graceland, following a trail of trash left in the car to replicate her mother's journey. A styrofoam cup leads her to the Juicy Lucy in Macon, Georgia - once a burger joint and pot palace and now merely am abandoned kudzu-choked shell. As page 69 shows us, Phillip, the former owner, remembers a very different Honey than the woman who raised Cory Beth.

Last Ride to Graceland has bit of a Wizard of Oz structure, with Cory Beth encountering three people from her mother's past along her winding route to redemption. Although she originally thinks she's undertaking her journey to answer the question of who is her biological father, she quickly learns that the road between Beaufort and Memphis will also tell her something even more important: who her mother really was as well.
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--Marshal Zeringue