Lowcountry Native Gervais Hagerty’s Debut Novel Looks At Charleston Privilege
Jeff Walker, Book Review
Whether she’s experienced it first hand or as an outsider looking in, Gervais Hagerty has penned an intriguing novel depicting the aristocracy that often comes from having the right name, or just from being born South of Broad in Charleston, South Carolina. With ‘In Polite Company‘, she does an excellent job of detailing an elitist society stemmed from centuries old families, painting a wonderful landscape of words surrounding one particular young woman who prefers to go against the grain.
Hagerty’s debut offering is delightfully written and extremely engaging. She has scored a home run in her first outing. Simons (pronounced Simmons) Smythe was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but over her 20 plus years she’s become equally accustom to using a plastic spoon.
Not unlike many women her age, Simons is struggling to follow her gut instinct, or submit to what several young ladies in her family have done for decades. With her older sister Weezy having already tied the knot with a second child on the way, and her younger sister Caroline primed for her debutante debut, Simons doesn’t want to fall into the same old pattern.
Making matters a bit more complicated, Simons is engaged to Trip, a marriage she’s certain would lead her life into the mundane existence she’s been trying to avoid. The two have been dating since college, but Simons questions whether their love and lust have waned. Furthermore Simons foresees her future as a dutiful wife, married to a successful lawyer turned politician, and much like her model parents, the couple are members of a private club where proper ladies know their place.
Simons’ saving graces are her grandmother Claudia (Laudie), and her best friend Martha. Laudie as Simons discovers was much more daring in her youth before excepting her matriarchal role, and the two share a kindred spirit, with Simons desperately chasing the final piece to a puzzle Laudie has unearthed. Apparently sowing your wild oats skips a generation.
Given the insecurity of her impending marriage and cookie cutter life, Simons yearns to be more like Martha, whom she has known for 12 years. Although the two come from similar backgrounds, Martha has never let loose of her wild side, is generally opposed to wedded bliss, and remains sexually un-inhibited. Enter Harry, a former crush Simons has had since high school, and one Martha is sure will help Simons break free of the normalcy in her day to day life.
As late spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and with Laudie’s health taking a turn, as well as committing to a series of inane society parties, a lot is weighing on Simons. Her job as local producer with Channel 14’s weekend news has its own set of struggles, pitting her against her parents. Through it all Simons finds solace in one singular activity. When she’s alone on her surfboard, catching a wave she’s in total command of her thoughts.
Will a couple of un-fulfilled dalliances prove enough to end her attraction towards single life including the late night bar scene. Has Trip moved on? How many cotillions do bluebloods have to attend each season? Is denim and flip-flops acceptable, or do the upper crust need a new dress for every party? And even more concerning, will her new nephew be forever ostracized from society by having North Charleston on his birth certificate?
Many uncertainties abound. Perhaps a new friendship in fellow surfer Ben, and the hope of a new job outside of Charleston will bring Simons some peace of mind. Only time will tell. ‘In Polite Company’ is one woman’s journey to maintain family ties, all the while freeing herself from the lifestyle she disdains. Hagerty has done a marvelous job defining each and every character, allowing readers to become invested in the story line. At 353 pages ‘In Polite Company’ is a generous narrative, but nonetheless a smart and bold first tale from Ms. Hagerty. Based on her debut offering Gervais Hagerty will be captivating readers for years to come. For more on her visit her site at https://gervaishagerty.com/in-polite-company
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