Sarah Creech’s first novel, Season of the Dragonflies (William Morrow 2014), is a beautiful book and mesmerizing story. The story is about the Lenore women and their perfumery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it is, as the synopsis promises, “a beguiling tale of practical magic, old secrets, and new love.”
The majority of Season of the Dragonflies is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Having lived in and loved these mountains, I worried I would encounter the treachery of them, the underbelly, something in tune Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, or even James Dickey’s Deliverance, something I try to forget having recently left them. Instead, more like the Blue Ridge in Ron Rash’s novels, Creech shows the duality of Appalachia with the tone of someone who has deeply cherished them. She depicts the mountains, their idyllic streams and magnolia-oak majesty with only the filter of magical realism, which is seamlessly sewn into the story of the Lenores and their perfumery.
Despite my best intentions, I was very self-aware when I started reading this novel. Creech was a few years ahead of me when I started the MFA program at McNeese State. And I unavoidably expected to encounter the Sarah I knew in graduate school: a woman trying to figure out her characters, exploring the grungy Appalachia of her roots, and giving into only a minutiae of the MFA entitlement we all felt. And I should have known better than to judge one of my gifted and diligent friends to have not grown at all in the eight years since I met her. Less than a third of the way into the novel, I was lost in the Season of the Dragonflies; so completely captivated by it, I forgot there was an author. That’s how immersive the story and its writing are.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt that way about any novel or been able to let go of my writer-self to just read. Reading about the Lenores was for me at 28 as magical as reading Julie Andrew’s Mandy was when I was 10; it feels so good to read something that reminds me why I love reading. I really enjoyed the relationship of the Lenore women: a relationship somewhat determined by fate but through which the women seem to have an opportunity to do what they’re best at: to flower, or to blossom, like the gardenia potentiae flowers the Lenores grow. This seems true; especially because my mother recently came in town and painted our spare bedroom, and in response, my grandmother’s regaled me with stories of rooms she’d painted for my mother. While my version is less romantic than farms of extra special gardenias and secret perfume recipes, there is still a “carrying on the family business” quality to it. In fact, it is when Lenore Incorporated is threatened that story of its women unfolds. Early in the novel, Creech writes, “What would happen if the public knew that Lenore Incorporated was responsible for the careers of the female entertainers they most adored, the politicians they voted for, the lawyers and judges who enforced the law, the doctors who cared for them, and more often, the IT entrepreneurs who made their lives convenient?” While I like the power of the Lenore women, I do not like the idea that our most powerful women have risen to their stature only with the help of a perfume. This part of the premise is somewhat counterintuitive to the main characters’ actions and how the reader sees them endeavoring to live their best lives. Yet, this only bothered me when I reflected on the book as a reviewer, not while reading it.
Indeed, the writing is such that while reading Season of the Dragonflies, I was completely engulfed in the world of the novel. I never doubted the magic of the perfume, the relationship between the sisters, or the Lenore family’s visceral connection to the gardenia potentiae. Most importantly, I forgot that I was reading my friend’s novel. The love and loss and trials throughout Season of the Dragonflies are so captivating that I forgot about the writer. And that is the truest sign of successful writing: when the reader is so taken up by the story that she forgets she is reading it.