Mary Ann Henry’s debut short story collection, Ladies in Low Places, paints a vivid portrait of multiple generations of Southern Women examining where they fit in with today’s rapidly changing world. Deeply imbued with a sense of place, most of the stories in this captivating collection are set in or around Charleston, South Carolina, a city where the past bleeds dramatically into the present.
Henry succeeds at creating 18 unforgettable characters from very different walks of life in the South, while she subtly weaves universal themes throughout the collection that will resonate with readers. The setting’s Lowcountry nuances are enchanting and serve to tie all of the stories together seamlessly.
Each story is a refreshing portrait of a woman bucking convention or finally deciding to forego the traditional path. Among them, “The Basket Maker” and “Blood Orange” are standouts. “The Basket Maker” depicts the life of Charleston’s most powerful wedding planner as she is discovering that perhaps she is not as satisfied with her life as she might have believed. With just a dash of magical realism, the story is deeply emotional.
In some of the stories, Henry writes with a powerful, authentic voice about characters not often seen in contemporary fiction: older women. One of these is “Blood Orange;” a lighter tale about a woman’s sixtieth birthday party and the travails one could face when dating at that a certain age. Some of the stories focus on younger women, with a particularly hilarious story about a beauty pageant with three unlikely contestants titled “Hell Hole Swamp Queen.”
The collection has deep undercurrents running just below the surface that allow profound glimpses into the tension between the grounding pull of traditional ties and the forces of modernity that many women must come to terms with as their own stories unfold.
Even still, each one of the stories is a delightfully entertaining and poignant read that will linger and leave you wanting more.
Ladies in Low Places is a passionately crafted collection that makes for an insightful, but humorous and uplifting, read. A wonderful sense of place, authentic voice, and vividly drawn characters make this work stand out from others about contemporary Southern women.
Henry’s next project is a novel length expansion of the collection’s final story. Titled “The Wayward Daughter,” the longer format should give her leave to explore some of the tantalizing ideas and quirky characters presented in this collection.