Thursday, June 30, 2011
Authors often use genuine life circumstances and sometimes incorporate bona fide names in their works of fiction. Some situation or some person strikes a spark and real life fits neatly into narrative.
Thus Summervillian Cathryn Mahon (pronounced “man”) found her name used as the storyteller in Dorothea Benton Frank’s new Lowcountry novel “Folly Beach.” Dottie, as she is widely known, has been associated with Cathy for years via their dual connection with the College of Charleston – the former as a Parent Board member and the latter as a Senior Program Director. In the novel, “Cathy” is known as “Cate,” more formerly, Cathryn Mahon Cooper.
In the book’s Acknowledgements section the author gives special thanks to Cathy and those “whose names I grabbed from real life and used for characters. If you recognize yourself acting strangely or being peculiar,” she continues, “it is just me having a little fun with my friends . . .”
I thought she was kidding about using my name in the book and laughed when she mentioned it.” Cathy told me recently, “and then Dottie phoned to say it was time ‘to go to print’ with her new book. She wanted to be sure I was comfortable with the lead character’s name. I was about to tell her what a sweetie she was, when it occurred to me to ask if I was to be the protagonist or antagonist. Her answer and the storyline made it fun to say yes. I really think she’s a hoot!”
Dottie’s latest book is one of her best and the plotting is cunning, a play within a novel, using not only real people’s names, but real people. Dorothy and DuBose Heyward as well as George Gershwin, all of the musical “Porgy and Bess” fame, head the play list. The book chapters alternate with play scenes, paralleling the story and intertwining past and future, including Charleston’s Classical Renaissance.
She paints her characters as vividly as the Lowcountry mango sunsets she describes. A back story of Folly Beach comes alive in this book. The author describes many coincidences and associations which have pulled her into the Heyward story as well as into the S.C. Historical Society to delve into that family’s treasurers.
Dottie’s creativity in bringing the Heywards, especially Dorothy, back to life and bringing life back to her main character Cate, is done with dedication, empathy, sassiness and sexiness. She has succeeded so well on all levels. Perhaps more than she knows.
Cate Cooper literally had her entire world fall apart nearly on top of her head. After you finish Chapter Two, you’ll sit back and wonder how anybody bounces back from that. But most of us have conquered setbacks and altered our paths.
Cathy Mahon is one of those women. Her story is not for print, and none of her stumbling blocks mirrored Cate’s. Just let it be known that she has had to utilize a lot of the same verve in her sometimes bumpy life that Cate Cooper displays in hers. It’s that same “spunk” – read “strength of character with an underpinning of wit” – that saved Cate Cooper. Dorothea Benton Frank must be a bit fey to have chosen Cathy’s name for that character. And I should know.
I’m Cathy’s mother.