The Belle women are celebrities in the small town of Leaper's Fork, Tennessee. Stubborn Charlotte Belle is the matriarch of their unconventional family, which consists of her, her warmhearted niece, Angela, and Angela's young illegitimate daughter, Dixie. They are richer, more beautiful and more full of life than anyone else, and their neighbors never know whether to be appalled or delighted by their sexual antics.

One of those neighbors is Adam Montgomery, the East Coast doctor- next-door who's just married the "perfect" Lydia but can't get Angela out of his mind. For her part, Lydia's chill is only warmed by handyman Boone Dickson.

And then there's Thomas Jones, the new Baptist preacher who's been shouting from the pulpit about love ever since his nocturnal encounter with Charlotte in a cemetery. Class, habit and a world war all stand in the way of these characters' finding their hearts' desires, but watching them flounder is just as much fun.

Wall does a first-rate job of bringing dozens of characters—from a bevy of Boston bluebloods to an African-American teacher from Philadelphia to the stock boy at the local diner—to life with just a few spot-on phrases. Her wit and humor liberally spice this stew of sensuality, heartbreak and good, old-fashioned storytelling.

Alternately winsome, funny and heartfelt, The Rock Orchard is an accomplished debut from a talented author who deserves enormous popularity. (Jan., 256 pp., $24.00)
Reviewed by: 
Caroline McAddams