Jamie Langston Turner

Suncatchers

From Chapter 2, "Little Brick Boxes," in which Perry first meets Eldeen:

She was one of the largest old women Perry had ever seen. She had to be close to his own height of six feet, with broad shoulders and wide hips. She wore a shapeless lavender knit dress with a black cardigan and a long string of lavender beads with matching earrings. She walked over to the sofa and sat down heavily at the end closest to a gas heater. Perry could sense the waves of hot air emanting from it, and he pushed up the sleeves of his sweater.

He chose a straight-backed chair across from her on the other side of the small living room. A thin, gangly boy walked partway into the room and stood at the other end of the sofa looking embarrassed. His whole face was spattered with freckles. His jeans were neatly rolled up several turns, and his flannel plaid shirt was tucked tightly inside and buttoned up snug to the neck.

"This here's Joe Leonard," said the old woman, smiling at the boy proudly. "He's fourteen and is learning to play the tuba."

Joe Leonard came forward awkwardly and extended his hand. Perry relaxed somewhat as he always did when saw someone who looked even more uncomfortable than himself. "What grade are you in, Joe Leonard?" he asked.

"Ninth," the old woman said.

"You like sports?" Perry asked.

"He's too spindly for football," the old woman said. "For which I'm grateful since he doesn't have any business playing that anyway. Nobody does unless they're bent on killing theirself."

"I like basketball," Joe Leonard said. His eyes met Perry's briefly.

"And tennis, too," the old woman added. "I used to play that myself when I was younger."

An image filled Perry's mind of the old woman serving an ace. He stared hard at his knees.

No one spoke for a few moments. Joe Leonard disappeared, and Perry glanced around the living room, which had the look of an overcrowded souvenir shop. He counted five colorful afghans draped over the backs of chairs and the sofa. He started to ask the old woman if she had made them when it occurred to him that he didn't know her name.

"I'm bad with names," he said. "Jewel probably told me yours at the door, but I can't remember."

"No, she didn't," she said. "It's Rafferty, Eldeen Rafferty. You can call me Eldeen. E-L-D-E-E-N, Eldeen." She laughed. "Not a name you hear very much, is it? We had us some real original names in our family."

"Is it a family name?" Perry asked.

She picked up a photograph on the table beside her and motioned him over. "This is me, here, and my sister Nori, N-O-R-I, and my brother Klim, K-L-I-M, and my other brother Arko, A-R-K-O. Get it? Eldeen, Nori, Klim, Arko?

Perry didn't.

She set the picture down and sighed. "Nobody ever does," she said. "I don't know what got into my mother naming us that way. She was a character, she was."

"Perry still didn't understand.

"She couldn't ever do things the way everybody else did," Eldeen said. "She sure made life interesting. See, my mama wanted to name her children after everyday things around the house to remind us of our humble beginnings, which we never would of forgot anyhow. But instead of just naming us the thing itself, she switched it around and spelled it backwards."

"Oh, I see," Perry said slowly, studying her eyes. No twinkle of mischief, no smile. Standing over her this way, he caught a strong whiff of Mentholatum. He noticed also for the first time the soft down of a mustache feathering her upper lip.

"Eldeen, needle . . ." he said.

"Yes, sir." She laughed a throaty laugh. "But like I always say, I'd a heap rather be named Eldeen than Needle." And she laughed again.

Perry looked down at the photo on the table. If he wrote something like this in a work of fiction, he could never get away with it. A mother who would name her kids Needle, Iron, Milk, and Okra spelled backwards would be just too weird.

From Chapter 20, "A Broader Picture," in which Eldeen overturns Perry's expectations:

They pulled up to a stoplight behind a car with a "Honk if you love Jesus" bumper sticker.

"That makes me madder than a hornet's nest!" Eldeen said, shaking her finger with every syllable.

"What are you talking about, Mama?" Jewel asked.

"That sticker on that car. It's disrespectful is what it is! Like Jesus would be pleased by a noisy, blaring hullabaloo like that. My Bible tells me Jesus is somebody to stand in worshipful awe of, not toot at! He's the Alpha and Omega, our High Priest, with eyes like a fiery flame and a voice like the sound of many waters. He carries seven stars in his right hand and the keys to victory over death, and his face shines brighter than the noonday sun. He's the Son of God, not somebody to have a pep rally for!"

Nobody spoke for several moments after this surprising outburst. Perry couldn't help wondering what Eldeen would do if he leaned over the seat and beeped the horn.

He was confused over the whole incident. Just when he thought he had figured these people out, they went and did something like this. If anyone had asked him, he would have guessed that Eldeen would be thrilled over a bumper sticker that said "Honk if you love Jesus." He would have said she would be the first to honk and would honk the loudest and longest.

The thought settled over him that he still had a lot to learn. These people had some quirks that defied a predictable pattern. Just like the comment Eldeen made another time about Rush Limbaugh. Perry would have expected her to extol the man's conservative political views, views he knew she shared, but instead she had said, "He rides a mighty high horse, that man does, and he's profane and I don't like the way he cuts people down either."

From a blogger, Amy Uptain, who focuses on books and home education (find her at (http:/​/​www.hopeisthewordblog.com):

"One reads Jamie Langston Turner for character development, scores of literary allusions, and even humor. I have to say that Turner’s development of Eldeen Rafferty is perfect–so perfect that I think I’ve met her before. Perry himself is another case entirely. He is extremely introverted and, while he is a great observer-of-and-writer-about-sociological-phenomenon, he is really terrible at relating to people. Turner paints such a vivid portrait of Perry’s inner life that I feel like I know him . . . . The bottom line is Turner’s strength as a writer is characterization. I’ve rambled on long enough about Jamie Langston Turner. I really enjoy her books, and if you like thoughtful stories with highly developed characters, I think you will, too."



Selected Works

Fiction
"As Turner weaves her tale with a wealth of vivid detail, she avoids both sentimentality and patness."
--Deb Richardson-Moore
The Greenville (SC) News, Dec. 31, 1995
"In a lifetime of reading, a handful of books stand out—this is one of them."
–Michelle Rapkin, Editor, Doubleday/Crossings Book Club
"This thoughtful, warmly humorous novel takes a fresh look at the age-old search for peace and joy in a troubled, temporal world."
--CBA Marketplace
September 1999
That February afternoon was equal parts joy and heartache, but it began a journey Elizabeth Landis would never forget.
"Besides the fact that he was a married man, it was clear as soon as he spoke that his mission was anything but romantic. 'Do you have a toilet plunger?' he asked."
“Genuine humor and well-crafted characters make this a memorable and inspiring novel.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"I love putting little pieces together to make something beautiful. In a sense I saw the structure of this book as a mosaic." --From an interview with the author
"You can't rush through Jamie's books any more than you can rush through life itself."
--Sheila Petre
Mercersburg (PA) Journal, July 9, 2014

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