On the back flap of Edward Kelsey Moore’s The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, the author writes that the story is rooted in childhood memories of “eavesdropping on the women of the family as they talked at family gatherings.” Indeed, reading the book feels like being at a family gathering filled with loud, warm-hearted aunties eager to share the latest gossip. Supremes is a charming book, and a lovely reading experience.
Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean are old friends who still meet weekly at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. Odette can speak to ghosts (including a hilarious Eleanor Roosevelt who likes to hover near people who are near death), Clarice’s husband is cheating on her, and Barbara Jean battles alcoholism. Moore has a gift for characterization — each woman and her personal story feels real, and you can almost imagine them across the restaurant from you. The story is set in a small town, and the diner setting as well as the way the townspeople all seem to know each other, give the story a lovely, timeless feel, even in the more contemporary sections.
Odette in particular stands out as a friend one would love to have. She’s loud, funny and not afraid to tell you exactly what she thinks. If you’ve read The Baby Sitters Club, imagine a large, African American, more blunt, version of Kristy Thomas. So when a serious illness and the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt (to Moore’s credit, he pulls off what could’ve been a cheesy plot device) force Odette to face her own mortality, the sudden glimpse into her vulnerability is heartbreaking. In true Odette style, however, she continues to be her sharp, wisecracking self, making the reader wish even more than ever that Odette somehow can defeat even death.
I loved reading the stories of these women. Their experiences, in many ways, are so far from my own, but the book still made me think of my own high school friends, and how we would imagine a future where we’d all still be as close as we were in school. Unlike Odette, Clarice and Barbara Jean, my high school friends and I no longer live in the same town, nor even in the same country, and so years can go by before I get to meet up with them. We’re still really close — and I feel very fortunate in that regard. Still, reading Moore’s book made me wish I had my own Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. A place I can go to once a week, a second home I’ve had since childhood, and a tradition that my friends and I have formed years ago and still manage to keep alive. There’s an appeal in that constancy, somewhat like a real-life Pop Tate’s that has somehow never gone out of business. Moore’s book is set in contemporary times, but there is such a timeless feel to it.
It would be naive to say that Moore’s story calls to mind a simpler time. The lives of its three protagonists are certainly far from simple — they deal with racism, gender inequality, adultery, and even the strength of their friendship isn’t enough to combat these. And yet this book is a comfort. There is such a feeling of family and friendship and a sense of permanence we look to ascribe to certain places. Moore draws us into this world, and we recognize something of our own lives in it, and we just really, really want to stay.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.