Rush is a great read, a gentle-hearted literary novel of the New South telling an eye-opening, entertaining story with a conscious. The author Lisa Patton, herself a Deep South native and a former sorority member, writes the story with a careful eye for telling details, an honest ear for dialect and dialogue, an artistic talent for descriptive passages, and a voice ringing with authenticity. More than that—she tells the story with insight and compassion.
One of the main characters, Miss Pearl, an underpaid African-American house maid in a sorority house at “Old Miss,” butts heads with what she calls “generational prejudice” in a dramatic conflict with a powerful bigot. But this is not a violent book like so many which address racism in the South. No one is killed or lynched, though some of the insidious ways racism hurts us all are exposed in circumstances that are hard to ignore.
Rush opens with Pearl’s voice explaining that she is the housekeeper at the Alpha Delta Beta sorority. She admits she does a “whole lot more, unrelated to housekeeping, but I’ll get to that later.” Pearl has one year of college, and she has ambitions to return to school and better herself. Her Aunt Fee (known to the sorority sisters as Miss Ophelia), with whom Pearl is very close, also works as the sorority cook. What happens to Aunt Fee as the story evolves is a catalyst for the more dramatic events in the story and shines light on an often-ignored way discrimination endangers people’s lives.
When the sorority sisters learn that neither Pearl nor Miss Ophelia (or the other African-American employees of the sorority) receive health insurance or retirement, they organize to raise the funds to provide these benefits. In so doing, they risk the fury of the conniving, self-centered, and treacherous House Corp President of Alpha Delta Beta, a mean-natured racist named Lilith.
Lilith’s daughter, Annie Laurie, is a spoiled chip off the old block—or at least she seems so at first. Because Annie Laurie acts like a self-centered snob, a snide-voiced slob, and perhaps a budding alcoholic, none of the other girls like her. When she doesn’t get chosen for the Alpha Delta Beta sorority, her mother Lilith pulls a fast one, illegally substituting Annie Laurie for a much more deserving and popular student, petite redhaired Cali.
Of course, Cali is crushed when she isn’t accepted into Alpha Delta Beta, but she knew she was a long-shot. Cali doesn’t come from the “pedigreed” or wealthy background many (most?) of the sorority girls do, yet she had an ardent dream of becoming a sorority sister despite the financial constraints, her lack of references, and her lack of “pedigree.” But the ways in which other sorority sisters and a few mothers support Cali in her bid to join Alpha Delta Beta suggest this emphasis on “pedigree” could be evolving.
Cali’s best friend Ellie is equally charming and high-minded, though her social and economic status surpass Cali’s. Both girls are willing to go out on a limb to help Pearl, and to help other young women in their dorm. In contrast, Annie Laurie is their foil, just as Annie Laurie’s mother Lilith is the book’s equally spoiled and manipulative villainess. Yet Cali and Ellie rescue Annie Laurie not once, but at least twice.
Annie Laurie and her mother make a cruel mess of things with Pearl, Cali, and with the sorority—and Ellie and Cali and a handful of others must fix these messes. Jasmine, Cali’s African-American dorm roommate, will play a strong positive role in the fix, though she shuns the sorority.
This is a charming book, brimming with insider information on sorority life, the process of rush, and modern campus life, which confronts modern social issues while telling a riveting story. Lisa Patton is to be congratulated on writing a moving, insightful book. Engrossing and poignant, Rush is a well told story which raises thoughtful questions even as it entertains.
This is an excerpt of a review that first appeared at Compulsive Reader, and appears here with permission.
Claire Hamner Matturro, a Romantic Times award winner, has been a journalist in Alabama, a lawyer in Florida, an organic blueberry farmer in Georgia, and taught at Florida State University and University of Oregon. Her books include Skinny-Dipping (a BookSense pick, Romantic Times’ Best First Mystery) and Sweetheart Deal (winner of Romantic Times’ Award for Most Humorous Mystery), published by William Morrow, and Trouble in Tallahassee (KaliOka Press 2017) She reviews for Southern Literary Review and Compulsive Reader. “Like” and “follow” her at https://www.bookbub.com/profile/claire-matturro and https://www.facebook.com/authorclairematturro/