Synopses & Reviews
"Little Altars Everywhere, the first novel by Rebecca Wells, is the bittersweet story of the Walker clan of Thornton, Louisiana. Vivi Abbot Walker, the mother, is the eye of the hurricane. Her husband, Shep, is a cotton planter, and the two of them have four children: Siddalee, Little Shep, Baylor, and Lulu, who is named for Tallulah Bankhead, one of her mother's patron saints.
Each member of this funny, charming, and wounded family describes the view from his or her perch on the family tree. The book opens in 1963 with the recollections of Siddalee as a young girl, and continues with entries from her siblings, parents, and the black "help" who cannot save the Walker's from their darkness.
Twenty-seven years later, Wells returns to the Walkers, and this time the stories are startlingly different. The previous stories weren't necessarilylies, but they weren't the whole truth. It becomes clear that ultimately, there is no one truth within a family; there are only each character's tiny pin-light of truth. "Little Altars Everywhere is finally about the tiny murders that occur within a loving but lost Catholic Louisiana family. It offers no miracles of redemption; instead it suggests the power of an open heart to offer protection to the innocent.
1. Wells uses multiple narrators to unfold the story in "Little Altars Everywhere. What advantages are gained by this? Does this multiple perspective mean that we sense the story from a broader perspective from that of any one character? And what, if any value, is that broader perspective when evaluating the moral behavior of a character? Does the use of multiple narrators point to a truth that is too big, too uncertain, and too complex for any one character or person to put all together into a cogent vision? Do multiple narrators soften our judgments about a character?
2. What attitude does the novel take toward institutional religion (i.e., denominations), spirituality (a belief in and need for God and meaning), and human suffering. Catholicism is a strong presence in the novel. How does Catholicism both bless and damage the Walker family?
3. Vivi imparts a complex legacy to her children. What are the ingredients of this legacy? Shame? Suffering? A sense of wonder? A capacity for rapture?
4. Wells has said that " humor is the healing art." Discuss this in light of this novel.
5. Wells opens the novel with references to Little Richard in the " Prologue" and to Aaron Neville in the concluding chapter? What significance mightthis have? What role does racism play in the story of the Walkers? How does the value system of Chaney and Willetta differ from that of Vivi and Shep?
6. At the end of the novel, Sidda has a moment of insight into both her life and the lives of her family when she suddenly realizes that, " All their longing was pure." What does Sidda mean by this expression?
7. How can the acceptance of suffering help transform that suffering into love?
About the Author:
Rebecca Wells was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, where party-loving French-Catholic Louisiana meets North Louisiana Baptist territory in the same parish where her family has lived since 1795. She grew up on a working plantation and was trained well in the school of Southern Ladyhood and Roman Catholicism. Early on, she began to suspect that " she might have a vocation other than marrying a lawyer or becoming the local T.V. weather girl, " but the idea of being a professional writer never entered her mind. Writing, she thought, " was done only by people who lived in New York City who were very thin."
Wells has always been a storyteller and an actor. As a girl, she staged plays with her siblings, cousins, and friends, and performed in community theater productions. She learned to read early, and recalls, " It was like someone handing me the keys to another country, and I could go there any time I wanted."
The geographical territory of her writing has stayed close to Louisiana, however, and readers often assume that her work is autobiographical. Wells admits, " I grew up in a fertile world for story-telling, filled with flamboyance, flirting, futility, and fear. My work, though, isthe result of my imagination dancing a kind of psychospiritual tango with my own history, and the final harvest is fiction, not memoir."
Starring in college productions, she began to write one-woman shows for herself, as well as short plays. After traveling the United States by train, Wells attended The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where she studied language and consciousness with Allen Ginsberg and Choyyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and acting, movement, and voice with members of The Living Theatre, among others.
As an actress in New York City, Wells studied with Maurine Holbert, working within the Stanislavski method, as well as a depth psychology approach to acting, which seeks to integrate spirituality and performance. " I live in an actor's body, " Wells says, " in which the cultivation of sense memory, active listening, and belief that the sublime can arise out of the most common character, word, or gesture is somewhat of a religion to me." While performing at regional theaters throughout the country, Wells was also active in the nuclear disarmament movement. An early member of Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament, Wells visited Seattle in 1982 to help initiate a chapter of that group. She fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, and has lives there now. Her solo play, "Splittin' Hairs," was developed at The Seattle Rep before going on to tour over fifty cities, including the wilds of bush Alaska. Wells is currently writing a novel based on "Splittin' Hairs," which HarperCollins will publish. Wells's "Gloria Duplex," " an erotic worship service for the theatre, " debuted at Seattle's Empty Space Theater in 1987, with Wells in the title roleas an erotic dancer who undergoes a mystical experience when she sees the face of God in the mirrored ball above the dance floor. Her acting and writing for the theatre was hailed by the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer" as " uncanny and beautiful with a flair for mystical humor, " and "Gloria Duplex" was praised as " one of the glories of the decade." It is this rare gumbo of humor and pathos, an
Who can resist the rich cadences of Siddalee Walker and her flamboyant, secretive mother, Vivi? Here, the young Siddalee -- a precocious reader and an eloquent observer of the fault lines that divide her family -- leads us into her mischievous adventures at Our Lady of Divine Compassion parochial school and beyond. A Catholic girl of pristine manners, devotion, and provocative ideas, Siddalee is the very essence of childhood joy and sorrow.
An arresting combination of colloquialism, poetry, and grace, Little Altars Everywhere is an insightful, piercing, and unflinching evocation of childhood, a loving tribute to the transformative power of faith, and a thoroughly fresh chronicle of a family that is as haunted as it is blessed.
"We are swinging high flying way up, higher than in real life.And when I look down, I see all the ordinary stuff -- our brick house, the porch the tool shed, the oil drum barbecue pit, the clothesline, the chinaberry tree. But they are all lit up from inside so their everyday selves have holy sparks in them, and if only people could see those sparks, they'd go and kneel in front of them and pray and just feel good. Somehow the whole world looks like little altars everywhere."
Little Altars Everywhere is a national best-seller, a companion to Rebecca Wells's celebrated novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Originally published in 1992, Little Altars introduces Sidda, Vivi, the rest of the spirited walker clan, and the indomitable Ya-Yas. It is now available for the first time in hardcover.
Told in alternating voices of Vivi and her husband, Big Shep, along with Sidda, her siblings Little Shep, Lulu, Baylor, and Cheney and Willetta--the black couple who impact the Walkers' lives in ways they never fully comprehend--Little Altars embraces nearly thirty years of life on the plantation in Thorton, Louisiana, where the cloying air of the bayou and a web of family secrets at once shelter, trap and define an utterly original community of souls.
Who can resist such cadences of Sidda Walker and her flamboyant, secretive mother, ViVi? Here the young Sidda -- a precocious reader and an eloquent observer of the fault lines that divide her family -- leads us on a mischievous adventures at Our Lady of Divine Compassion parochial school and beyond. A Catholic girl of pristine manners, devotion, and provocative ideas, Sidda is the very essence of childhood sorrow and joy and sorrow.
In a series of Luminous reminiscences, we also hear Little Shep's stories of his eccentric grandmother, Lulu's matter-of-fact account of her shoplifting skills, and Baylor's memories of Vivi and her friends, the Ya-Yas.
Beneath the humor and tight-knit bonds of family and friendship lie the undercurrents of alcoholism, abuse, and violence. The overlapping recollections of how the Walkers' charming life uncoils to convey their heart-breaking confusion are oat once unsettling and familiar. Wells creates an unforgettable portrait of the eccentric cast of characters and exposes their poignant and funny attempts to keep reality at arm's length. Through our laughter we feel their inevitable pain, with a glimmer of hope for forgiveness and healing.
An arresting combination of colloquialism, poetry, and grace Little Altars Everywhere is an insightful, piercing and unflinching evocation of childhood, a loving tribute to the transformative power of faith, and thoroughly fresh chronicle of a family that is as haunted as it is blessed.
About the Author
Rebecca Wells, a Louisiana native, is an author, actor and playwright. Her works for the stage include Splittin' Hairs
and Gloria Duplex,
for which she created the lead roles.
She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Western States Book Award for her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere.
She tours a one-woman show based on Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.