With an opening line like that one, how could I possibly resist Sally Kilpatrick’s Orange Blossom Special?
The short answer is that I couldn’t.
When her husband of sixty year passes away, Edie Malcolm discovers that he has some very specific thoughts on how he and his estate should be distributed. In addition to leaving behind funding for two neighborhood friends to pursue a college education, Jerome wants to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled in three places – the Ryman, General Robert Neyland’s grave and the orange and white checkerboard of the University of Tennessee end zone. And Jerome wants his wife, sister and the two college scholars to complete the scattering together.
So, the four of them pack into Jerome’s orange and white checkerboard painted hearse with Jerome safely stored inside a Carmen Miranda cookie jar and set out to fulfill his final wishes.
This journey they take is hilarious and poignant – often within the same paragraph. By putting us inside the mind of each character on this road trip, Kilpatrick allows us to understand where each is coming from and to see that there are always two (or three) sides to every disagreement. The journey across the Volunteer state isn’t an easy one but it’s memorable. \
I also couldn’t help but feel like Kilpatrick wrote this novella specifically for an audience of one – me. With shout-outs to Tennessee football, the late great General Neyland and the Ryman auditorium, Orange Blossom Special was filled with Easter egg after Easter egg tailored perfectly for me. This includes the moment when our faithful band of heroes parks at the UTK Wesley Foundation for a Tennessee home game.
As I read Orange Blossom Special, I couldn’t help but have a huge grin on my face. As with her previous novels and stories, Kilpatrick has filled Orange Blossom Special with authentic, memorable characters. There is equal parts humor and sadness, all equally earned over the course of this novella. There’s even some fun in figuring out which recent Tennessee football season and game versus the hated Vanderbilt Commodores serve as a backdrop for the novella’s final pages.
In short, this is another winner from Kilpatrick.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this novella from the author. I will also add that I am friends with the author and we matriculated together at the University of Tennessee. So, I may have recognized a few Easter eggs thrown in there for die-hard UT fans like myself.