Our friend, Belle Boggs, has just had her first book Mattaponi Queen published. Rebecca and I have known Belle for a few years, and think she’s absolutely lovely. She also has great fashion sense! The three of us share a love of 50s vintage dresses, southern rivers and books. I read Mattaponi Queen this past weekend, and I have to say: “Wow. I know this amazing writer?”
Now, southern can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and the Southeast encompasses many, including transplants, natives and immigrants. I went to college in Virginia, have lived in NC for 11 years and originally hail from Louisiana. Belle Boggs hails from King William County, Virginia and tells the story of her South, the Mattaponi River and its people. Belle’s stories make a black and white photograph of a Virginia county movie reel into the colors of life. She turns her characters and their lives to face the river, and lets the light bouncing off the water show us what we overlook in the people we see every day.
I think I’ve fallen for Skinny, a Native American car mechanic, dying of Hepatitis C, with a love of cooking shows and a strange home perched above the Mattaponi River. Skinny appears in 3 stories, one through his own eyes and and 2 others intertwined in other character’s lives. What I love about Skinny is that though he lives on the reservation, you cannot define him with a Native American label. Belle reveals the man and the Reservation beyond the labels of our society. You can cast Skinny as the romantic hero; a dying man, who cooks lovely meals for his friends that he can’t eat, yearning for a lost love or any love he can just sit down next to. Or you could see him as his ex-wife does; an alcoholic, estranged from his 2 kids, who lives in a collection of shacks, with a bunch a junked cars in his yard. Skinny is not the flat image we expect to read, but a man that we can accept as human with all his splendid faults, quirks and loves.
What strikes me most about Mattaponi Queen is that it is not just a collection of short stories, it is a kalidescope of lives, seen through many characters’ eyes, yet always in the background, we catch a glimpse of the Mattaponi River.
You can meet Belle in person at one of the following readings, and buy her book at these stores. Everyone should read this book.