White Trash, Red Velvet

WHITE TRASH, RED VELVET is a deceptively serious book, lovingly written but largely devoid of easy sentimentality. Set in Hibriten (actually Lenoir), North Carolina, the stories detail the fortunes of the Holsclaw family—the parents Curtis and Adele, their children Marleen, Phyllis, and Dennis—their immediate relatives, and various neighbors, friends, and fellow workers. Hibriten is an industry town, dependent on the furniture business, but many of the citizens are only one generation away from rural life in the hills and foothills of North Carolina. In the first story, Curtis Holsclaw, recently returned from World War II, is digging a hole for a septic tank so that his house can have an indoor bathroom. Although there is potential here for both positive and negative stereotype, Secreast skillfully and respectfully invests Curtis and his other main characters with dignity without turning them into comic rubes or simplistic paragons of romantic country values. These are stories in which not much seems to happen, but by the last, the reader appreciates how quietly and undramatically loss occurs and people endure.

The best stories in the collection establish a sense of family and place with great integrity; the weaker ones sometimes are too obviously controlled by symbol or theme. Throughout there are images of entrapment, ranging from Curtis’s hole in the ground to a carefully-described iron lung to literal confinement in a piece of furniture itself. And while Curtis, Adele, and Marleen are beautifully developed, other characters never quite convince or never totally transcend they type they are meant to represent. Nevertheless, this is a fine book, and a difficult one to make work. Secreast deserves admiration for his intentions and for his faithfulness to those intentions.