Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

January 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm (ARC, fiction, novels)

Like everything else that appears on a book cover, from art work to jacket copy, the title of Beth Hoffman’s debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt sets certain expectations. First, that the reader will learn about the title character, and second, that the story will primarily concern itself with how CeeCee was saved and why she needed saving in the first place. So, I was a bit confused when Saving CeeCee Honeycutt lived up to its title within the first forty pages.

Twelve year old CeeCee is a social outcast, thanks to her crazy mother who often wanders around town dressed in a second hand prom dress and tiara, attempting to relive her glory days as a Georgia State pageant queen. With CeeCee’s traveling salesman father always out of town, it’s up to CeeCee to care for her mother; to make sure she eats and bathes when she’s depressed, and doesn’t break all of the plates in the house when she falls into a fit of rage. When Mrs. Honeycutt is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee’s heretofore unknown Great-Aunt Tootie swoops in, claims custody of CeeCee, and takes her down to Georgia to live in the family mansion, essentially saving her from her wretched life. With half of my expectations so quickly fulfilled I wasn’t sure what to expect from the rest of the novel. What followed was little more than a recounting of all the little adventures CeeCee has during her first summer in Georgia, a narrative that fails to create dramatic tension or coalesce into an identifiable plot.

Hoffman might as well have named CeeCee Cinderella. She has about as much personality as the fairytale princess who is defined entirely by her personal hardships. CeeCee has no strong desires, opinions, or hobbies. Though she is an avid reader Hoffman doesn’t ever show her relating to books in a passionate way. Children who turn to books to escape difficult home lives tend to develop a strong relationship to reading in general. They experience books on a deep emotional level, often coming to view them as friends. Yet, the most CeeCee ever says about her involvement with books is “I like to read.” Though books are supposedly her refuge CeeCee does not seem to have any strong feelings about or attachment to books.

Despite the fact that the story is told in first person by CeeCee herself, Hoffman never bothers to take the reader inside CeeCee’s head. CeeCee tells her own story with the emotional distance of a third person narrator which made me wonder at Hoffman’s choice to write in first person. The whole point of writing in first person is to give the reader access to the narrator’s thoughts, emotions, and biases. But CeeCee never tells the reader how she feels about the events unfolding around her. She doesn’t have any strong reaction to her mother’s death, no lasting worries about moving in with a relative she’s never met, and no problem adjusting to her new life.

Though CeeCee admits she deals with difficult issues by putting them out of her mind, as someone who often utilizes the “I’m not going to think about it” method of coping myself, I can say from experience that it takes effort to ignore things you don’t want to deal with. It’s a constant struggle that takes a mental and emotional toll. For CeeCee, however, there’s nothing hard about it. She finds it easy to ignore her mother’s death, her father’s absence, and cruises through the novel hardly suffering a moment of anguish. Her lack of character combined with the unrealistic way she so easily deals with loss made it impossible for me to care about or relate to CeeCee.

If CeeCee is Cinderella then Georgia is the Magic Kingdom. Everyone who lives there is kind, problems magically work themselves out, the good guys always win, and the bad guys are always punished. The story skips along from one minor complication to another, all of which are resolved before they have time to turn into a major plot point that might force the characters to work at finding a solution. Hoffman could have written a very complex story about grief, racism, and the ways we cope with circumstances we can’t change. Instead, she created a fairytale world where bad experiences are easy to put behind you and there’s always a happy ending. It’s a choice that saves Hoffman from having to create three dimensional characters, deal with difficult subjects, or build a truly engaging plot.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is an easy novel. It does not require a lot of thought power on the part of the reader. If you’re not all that concerned about plot or character development and you’re looking for a simple read, this is the book for you. But, though I enjoy escapist literature as much as the next gal, to really get into a book I need to have fully fleshed characters to connect with. Without them there is no story, and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is an example that proves the rule.

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