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Book review: “Playing With Matches” by Carolyn Wall

Oklahoma author Carolyn Wall's “Playing With Matches” takes readers through a Mississippi woman's tortured life as she faces her past in a search for healing.
BY BETTY LYTLE Published: July 22, 2012

“Playing With Matches” (Bantam Trade Paperback Original, $15), by Carolyn Wall, is set in a small town in northern Mississippi, where about the only means of earning a living is working at the prison down the road.

Clea Shine grew up fast. Her mother was a prostitute who spent her time entertaining the prison guards.

When Clea was born, her mother gave her away to a black woman who lived next door.

Clea spent her childhood longing for her mother, but was cared for and loved by Jerusha Lovemore, her “Auntie.”

As Clea grew older, she often went across Potato Shed Road to visit her mother, where she saw more than a girl her age should.

Clea's only friends were a boy who lived in a tree; separated conjoined twins born sharing three arms; and a boy who was being held captive under a neighbor's house.

Clea ran away when she was 12 years old, after she set fire to her mother's house.

She returns two decades later after a tropical storm destroys her own house and she discovers that her husband is unfaithful.

She's come back with her traumatized son to the only home she knew, hoping the love of her adopted family and her memories will help to heal them both.

But first she has to face her past.

Wall is an editor and lecturer. As an artist-in-residence, she has taught creative writing to more than 4,000 children in Oklahoma, where she is currently working on her third novel, “The Birdcage.”

— Betty Lytle