In my dream, I'm five years old again and it’s a summer night at our camp in Spring Creek. Mama and all us kids—me, Little Shep, Baylor, and Lulu—around a bonfire. Mama's gang of girlfriends, the Ya-Yas, and all their kids are there too. Mama goes inside and puts Little Richard on the record player, She cranks the music up so loud it bounces off the pine trees. Then she comes back, takes my hand and says, Alright now, Siddalee: Dance!
Oooh, My Soul! Little Richard begins, shouting out a warning for the weak of heart.
Baby baby baby, don’t you know my love is true?!
Honey honey honey honey, get up offa that money!
That man sings nasty. Those horns blow nasty. My body takes over and I’m moving. I shake so hard that freckles jump off my face.
Love Love Love Love Love
Oooooh! My soul!
Arms and legs have new lives all their own. Every single part of me dances. And that 45-rpm record plays over and over and over and we’re singing with Little Richard now, we’re blowing saxophones! And if Daddy drives up in his pickup, you know he’d yell at us, white women dancing like that, you know he would! But Daddy doesn’t drive up, and me and Mama go on dancing and all the Ya-Yas and the rest of the kids are yelling and clapping for us! Oh, they yell and clap and hoot and holler! And something secret, something sweet, something strong is shooting up from the earth straight into my body, making my limbs quiver, making me crazy-dance all over the place right there in my orange and white sunsuit.
When I wake up from my dream, I’m laughing and my face is streaked with tears. My body feels relaxed, loose, good. I roll over in bed and I’m 33 years older than in my dream and I still want to hold Mama's hands. I’m crying and I’m laughing and I still want my mother to come and take me in her arms."
—from Little Altars Everywhere
Little Altars Everywhere is a national best-seller, a companion to Rebecca Wells' celebrated novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Originally published in 1992, Little Altars introduces Sidda, Vivi, the rest of the spirited Walker clan, and the indomitable Ya-Yas.
Told in alternating voices of Vivi and her husband, Big Shep, along with Sidda, her siblings Little Shep, Lulu, Baylor, and Cheney and Willetta — the black couple who impact the Walkers' lives in ways they never fully comprehend — Little Altars embraces nearly thirty years of life on the plantation in Thorton, Louisiana, where the cloying air of the bayou and a web of family secrets at once shelter, trap and define an utterly original community of souls.
Who can resist such cadences of Sidda Walker and her flamboyant, secretive mother, ViVi? Here the young Sidda — a precocious reader and an eloquent observer of the fault lines that divide her family — leads us on a mischievous adventures at Our Lady of Divine Compassion parochial school and beyond. A Catholic girl of pristine manners, devotion, and provocative ideas, Sidda is the very essence of childhood joy and sorrow.
In a series of luminous reminiscences, we also hear Little Shep's stories of his eccentric grandmother, Lulu's matter-of-fact account of her shoplifting skills, and Baylor's memories of Vivi and her friends, the Ya-Yas.
Beneath the humor and tight-knit bonds of family and friendship lie the undercurrents of alcoholism, abuse, and violence. The overlapping recollections of how the Walkers' charming life uncoils to convey their heart-breaking confusion are oat once unsettling and familiar. Wells creates an unforgettable portrait of the eccentric cast of characters and exposes their poignant and funny attempts to keep reality at arm's length. Through our laughter we feel their inevitable pain, with a glimmer of hope for forgiveness and healing.
An arresting combination of colloquialism, poetry, and grace, Little Altars Everywhere is an insightful, piercing and unflinching evocation of childhood, a loving tribute to the transformative power of faith, and a thoroughly fresh chronicle of a family that is as haunted as it is blessed.
Praise for Little Altars Everywhere
“A brilliant piece of work...The author’s gift for giving life to so many voices leaves the reader profoundly moved.”
— Seattle Weekly
“A gem of a book...Wells offers a virtuoso performance.”
— Denver Post
“Rarely do you find a first novel of such power. The author’s strange, arresting combination of colloquialism and poetry flows from her eight characters with a force so strong you savor each sentence.”
— Southern Living
“Rebecca Wells brilliantly and adeptly moves among the voices, lending depth, honesty, and reality to the characters. With an intimate, intuitive sense of comedy, she exposes her characters’ crazy, hilarious attempts at keeping reality at arm’s length.”
— Bloomsbury Review
“Displaying acute characterizations and a cast of voices unfailingly sharp, Rebecca Wells’ Little Altars Everywhere is an exceptional debut. This is a book from the heart, full of voices and memory that sifts through yet another crazy family history to find purity and grace.”
— St. Petersburg Times