“Sugar Land” by Tammy Lynne Stoner— “Love, Lead Belly and Liberation”

Stoner, Tammy Lynne. “Sugar Land”,  Red Hen, 2018.

“Love, Lead Belly and Liberation”

Amos Lassen

There are so many perks to being a reviewer but there is one that surpasses all others and that is when you discover a new writer to add to your list of favorites. In many cases this is a writer you might never have heard on had a publishing house took a chance and sent you a book. As I get older, I become more and more convinced that life is much more than a series of decisions, it is also a series of chances.

Tammy Lynne Stoner’s “Sugar Land” is “a southern fried novel about love, Lead Belly, and liberation. It is a look at small-town Texas life from Prohibition through civil rights.  That alone would be enough with which to write a novel but Stoner goes another step farther. She tackles the treatment and awareness of gay people through these decades.

Set in I 1923 in Midland, Texas, we meet Miss Dara who falls in love with her best friend― a girl. Things were very different then and she was terrified about what people would think. She takes a job at the Imperial State Prison Farm for men and there  befriends inmate and soon-to-be legendary blues singer Lead Belly, who sings his way out of prison but only if she agrees to free herself from her own prison. In fact, he helps her to do so.

Life is not easy and before long Dara’s life falls apart and she goes on an eating binge, gaining so much weight that she can hardly keep herself clean and is sent on a journey to  finally accept the secret she’s been carrying. She reunites with her estranged step-daughters, buys a mobile home and falls in love with the local seamstress, Mrs. Tanya May Rogerton. Now Dara has to break out of her physical and emotional prison and become the matriarch to a family made up of Texas misfits. This is Dara’s second chance and it is filled with hope but it depends on her. She took the job at the prison so she would not have to be who she really is but understands that things do not work that way.

 I am amazed that this is a first novel as Stoner so adeptly moves us from tears to smiles as we read about a new kind of hero. She gives us a novel that could not be written even ten years ago but it is also a novel for everyone who believes that love is possible. The plot and the language are raw but it also comes from the heart. Being a displaced Louisiana guy, I had great fun with the language.

Let me make a suggestion—when you plan to begin reading this (and I know you will), make sure you clear the rest of the day. I say that because once you start reading, you will not be able to stop nor will you want to.

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