From Memphis to Montpelier

Lisa Patton's novel leads a Southern Belle into a wintry hell—where, to her own shock, she thrives

by Faye Jones

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter
Lisa Patton
Thomas Dunne Books
320 pages
$23.99

Leelee Satterfield has lived a privileged life as a Memphis Southern Belle. Her daddy's darling, she cruised smoothly from private girls' school to Ole Miss sorority to dream home complete with a handsome husband, two lovely daughters, and a Yorkie named Princess Grace Kelly. She and her friends are the sort of people who lunch at the country club because they've never had to pay a bill there, moving from their fathers' to their husbands' accounts. But unlike many spoiled people, Leelee also likes to please—so much so that when her husband comes up with a crazy scheme to run an inn in Vermont, she agrees.

Lisa Patton's debut novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, is a calorie-free popsicle of a story about a Southern girl out of the pool and into the snow. Vermont might as well be a foreign country to poor Leelee. Despite her determination to be a supportive wife, she is truly out of her element in every sense. She never gets used to the brutal cold. The former owners have stayed on, including the domineering Helga, who frightens Leelee so much she constantly finds herself conceding to unreasonable demands. Worst of all, Leelee's husband soon deserts her for another woman.

Camus found within winter an invincible summer, and—this being chick lit—Leelee Satterfield of course discovers something just as important: the strong woman who has been hiding inside her all these years. And through it all she manages to keep her sense of humor. With the help of old friends from Memphis and new ones in Vermont, Leelee makes a life for herself, as she acknowledges: "I own my own business and I'm making money. Not much, but we're getting by. And I feel like, for the first time in my life, I can do something on my own. I don't need anyone to do it for me." Still, questions remain, not least of which concerns where the newly empowered Leelee really belongs: the South or the North?

Camus found within winter an invincible summer, and—this being chick lit—Leelee Satterfield of course discovers something just as important: the strong woman who has been hiding inside her all these years.

Author Lisa Patton seems to have answered this very question for herself. Born in Memphis, she ran an inn in Vermont for three years: "After surviving three sub-zero winters and discovering Vermonters don't bury their dead in the winter, suffering from vampire bugs [sic] bites on the back of my neck, and enduring a four-week summer where I still had to wear a coat at night, I knew I had a story to write," she notes on her website. Now living in Franklin, Tennessee, Patton will donate a portion of each book's sales to an organization in support of single mothers.

Lisa Patton will discuss and sign Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on Sunday, October 25, at 6 p.m.

Published Thursday, 22 October 2009