Anyone unaware of The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood must have spent the last twenty years under a rock. The book came out with it’s trademark blue cover and sweet story of survival, family and redemption and hit the ball out of the publishing park. Then came the film adaptation and even though it cut some of my favorite bits from the book, it hit another home run, chick movie, older actresses and all. All of the sudden, everyone was “Ya-Ya” and Girls Raised In The South until I was ready to scream. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book but I knew there was so much the writer left out. That’s one reason I love Little Alters Everywhere, the story of these characters before they found forgiveness in the first church of Ya-Ya. Trust me, there’s a lot more to that story.
For example, there’s Shep. In the sisterhood, he’s Saint Shep, the man who accepts punishment from a wife for not being the man she expected to marry. He can’t give her the life she thinks she deserves or she needs but he’s her champion when the chips are down. The worst thing you can say is that he’s not always there for his children. Little Alters fills in the back spots showing a man hemmed in by fear and asthma. Growing up with a physically abusive father made Shep afraid he’d repeat the pattern, so he pulls away from his family, unable to give or receive affection. So when the guilt, the conflict and the emotions get too high, Shep runs to his hermit’s cage of a duck blind until he develops the nerve to go home. Shep’s not a bad man but he lacks the courage needed to stand up and be good. Little Alters shows the plantation man is far from a saint, just the man still married to Vivi Abbott Walker.
Vivi is still a fragile soul but her sins in the Sisterhood were easier to discount. Lost love and lousy parents account for part of Vivi’s damage and her worst sins come from a combination of the church, booze and pills. Vivi can be forgiven for acts she committed when she was non compis mentis. It’s harder to forgive Vivi’s nighttime visits and her inappropriate touching in the night. Viviane Abbott Walker may have been a damaged child but she could dole out her own traumas as well.
But for all of the damage, there is sunshine and summers at Spring Creek and a family that loves each other, however imperfectly. If “Ya-Yas” is a book about forgiveness then “Little Alters” is about learning. Learning to be careful around some people you love, especially if they still drink. Learn to listen to your instincts and set boundaries when you look after yourself. Learn that while people mess up, they’re still trying to to do the best they can. And learn that if you will look closely, you can find a blessing in the pain.