“A Rose in Little Five Points” by Deidre Ann DeLaughter

Set in Atlanta, Deidre Ann DeLaughter’s engaging second novel, A Rose in Little Five Points, sprawls across the 70s and 80s, examining widely divergent themes like immigration, the AIDS epidemic, and women’s roles in both the family and the workplace.

Protagonist Meredith Fields struggles with self-esteem issues, or what she calls “the three-headed FearGuiltShame self-recrimination monster” that is her “factory setting.” As the novel opens, she and her Peace Corps employed husband Kenneth are relocating from Cameroon to the U.S. because she is tired of living without air conditioning, hot water, grocery stores, and reliable electricity. She is especially tired of her husband leaving her alone with the their one-year-old daughter, who suffers from recurring earaches. Cameron suffers from. Kenneth is returning reluctantly, and she blames herself for his unhappiness, for disrupting his plans to save the world. He remains distant and disconnected from her. They rarely have sex. She assumes it is her fault, that she is unattractive or needs a new nightgown. She blames herself for everything that goes wrong and resolves to “make a better effort” with her husband. Astute readers will figure out what’s wrong with her relationship with Kenneth long before Meredith does.

Another reason she longs to return to Atlanta is to spend more time with her parents and have her daughter get to know them. She soon sees that her professor father exhibits troubling signs of age. Yet both set of grandparents offer a support system that was missing in Cameroon. They babysit while Meredith works and returns to school to earn a Master’s degree.

An interesting aspect of the novel is Meredith’s job teaching English as a Second Language to immigrants. She has the “dubious honor” of explaining Reaganomics to them, and she notes that “If anything is trickling down, I doubt many of my students and their families are getting even remotely damp.” Despite the difficulties, Meredith comes up with such creative ideas for reaching her students, using music, art, television, and field trips to immerse them in a culture new to them. She vows to help her students “find their way in a strange culture, to help them prove to the naysayers that they have a genuine right to the same things we take for granted—food, shelter, work, health, peace, safety.” But as she works with immigrants and watches TV reports of famine in Ethiopia, she feels “twinges of guilt”: “I have too much and they don’t have enough, and it is not due to any merit on my part but, rather, my good fortune to be born here in Atlanta to two caring parents who had the means to keep me alive.” She has a big heart. Also a sense of guilt that works overtime.

Other examples of her compassion emerge as she reaches out to people, first befriending Magda, an elderly immigrant who lives across the street from her and then to Ron, a homeless man who hangs out on her street. These two comprise a strong subplot.

After her divorce, Meredith rises to new challenges. She tackles the renovations to her house she always wanted to do but delayed, because Ron’s choices came first. But now, by herself, she upgrades the carriage house so it can be rented. She decides if she “can learn how to sew a dress, [she] can learn how to measure and cut wood for a chair rail.”

One crucial relationship in the story is that of Meredith and her daughter. They seem very close for many years—until they are not. When teenage Cameron runs away and remains out of touch with her parents, they are quite naturally heartsick and distraught. A troubling aspect of the story is that even years later, Meredith believes she is the root of her daughter’s problems. She thinks her own self-doubt and self-loathing drove her daughter away. She is still blaming herself. Ahhh, that FearGuiltShame monster is a tough one to slay.

Meredith is only beginning to learn that changing social roles ask an awful lot of women. She asks herself, “Am I able to be a good mother, a dutiful daughter, a kind neighbor, a decent home renovator, and a professional educator?” The answer is yes, she is all these things. She is a woman with excellent skills, a woman with a tremendous heart. The reader only wishes that her heart would offer the same kindness and love to herself that she bestows on others.

A Rose in Little Five Points is an easily read story that captures much of the social upheaval of the 70s and 80s. The Atlanta setting will ring true to those familiar with the gentrifying neighborhoods around Little Five Points.

Deidre Ann deLaughter

Deidre Ann deLaughter’s first novel, Reawakening Rebekah: The Gift of the Clamor Girls, was adapted into a highly acclaimed stage play performed by Columbus State University (GA) Theatre Department and Athens (GA) Creative Theatre. She retired from the University of North Georgia in 2023.


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