“Dear Chatter: To answer your question, when a Southerner looks at you with a blank smile and doesn’t answer you right away, it’s because he doesn’t trust you and he’s lookin’ you over and seein’ how much damage you can do as a human bein’…Have a nice day!”
Chatter is a kind of oral help desk published daily in Selby’s town newspaper: questions and complaints called in by local folks about Yankees and by Yankees about local folks.
Margaret Pinaldi, even tempered daughter of a militant feminist gynecologist from Buffalo, NY, transcribes the native messages with the sensitivity of an anthropologist and a degree in women’s studies. The combination of skirtiness and guile and slow, drawn out vowels describes a particular kind of Southern power with a female signature. When a Southern lady says: “Well, bless her heart!,” she means:
“she’s a bitch and I don’t like her and I’m fixing to say something awful about her. It’s like this: ‘Well, bless her heart! She’s got the fattest ass on the planet and her taste is all in her mouth but she does the best she can.’
Mothers, daughters, wives organize, decorate and manage Southern life from behind affluent decorating magazines and glasses of sweet tea.
A Yankee would call someone a fat slob. A Selbyite would say: “Now there’s a lady who likes her cheese straws and biscuits”.
Southern men can either accommodate them or be discontinued, like the dead appliances set on porches in South Selby “as if they’d been granted some (final) years in the sun after putting in all those years of work in the basement.”
The day’s Chatter is the popular subjective log of what people think in a class-conscious, gospelly mid-Georgia town. Meanwhile, the daily affairs of three women — a smart reporter, a poor, pretty, slightly scarred Kroger’s Supermarket employee, and a desperate, over-reaching, ‘old Selby’ wife — track what people say and how they behave. Cynthia Darlow piles on the twang and pulls out the drawl and turns simple sentences into terms of art. From red neck firemen, to poor white Southern good girls, to smart-ass Yankee reporters, to sensible daughters of militant feminist gynecologists, Darlow does Selby like Julia Child does sauces.
The roundabout way that most Selbyites communicate feelings and facts is not merely a matter of dialect or drawl. It is an altogether different way of being-with others. Consider, for example, the blunt, brutal directness of Margaret Pinaldi’s mother telling her daughter about her CATSCAN results:
Let me show you something.. She tapped the glass with the ball point pen… This is my left ovary… and this, this right here this white mass that looks like a supernova… this is a six cm necrotic mass with satellite lesions and I am totally, irrevocably fucked.
Finally, this is a manual for managers of feelings, a step by step guide on how to treat the truth differently, how to speak the truth, Georgia time.