Dorrie Curtis is a single mother raising her two on a hairdresser’s salary in East Texas. Isabel McAllister meets Dorrie when she becomes one of her clients, and over ten years and many different salons, the two form a friendship. Isabel hosts Dorrie in her home and keeps her favorite drinks on hand, and Dorrie invites Isabel to her children’s recitals and events. Their relationship takes a deeper turn when eighty-nine-year-old Isabel asks Dorrie to drive her to a funeral in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home is one of the most intimate novels that I have read. I really loved the way Kibler immersed readers in her character’s lives. I often felt as if I were riding in the backseat of their car, or lingering at the hotel as these women interacted with each other and opened themselves up to a deeper relationship. Isabel relates the story of her forbidden romance with Robert, a young black man related to her family’s housekeeper and cook, back when she was a girl in 1939 Kentucky and Dorrie slowly reveals her troubles raising her children without their father, and her own struggles to trust again after often being disappointed in love.
Even though readers may be essentially different from Dorrie and Isabel, it is hard not to feel the recognition of familial love and romantic love and the challenges and heartbreak inherent in both. Kibler based her story on the could-have-beens that her grandmother may have encountered in her own interracial love story. There are sweet moments, but she also does justice to the complexities of the people involved and the harshness and inhumanity of the times. As a result of the realistic style, I often read this with the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Highly recommended.