- Adriana Puckett
At a recent library staff-development event we were introduced to local author Belle Boggs and her colorful collection of short stories that comprise Mattaponi Queen. It’s telling that Ms. Boggs started her talk by giving us a slideshow tour of her hometown of Walkerton in King William County, Virginia. When I had the opportunity to read my copy of the stories, I was impressed that the setting was so strongly communicated in each story that it carried the same weight as characterization, plot, and other pillars upon which a story is built. The characters--lively, quirky, and in some cases, doomed--pigeonhole neatly into this clearly envisioned landscape and truly come to life.
The Mattaponi Queen of the title is a houseboat who has seen glory in former days but is now in serious need of repair. It’s moored on the Mattaponi River, which meanders through each of these twelve stories. Much of the action takes place on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation and the areas surrounding it, but I was continually thrilled to read landmarks familiar to me--Fredericksburg, Wolf Trap, Richmond--woven throughout these narratives. Characters enter each other’s narratives deftly but are fully explored in their own rights.
We are introduced to a newly-pregnant wife whose husband has been wounded in Iraq, and she is preparing to see him for the first time as an amputee; a nurse who is earning money to make payments on the Mattaponi Queen by tending to a wealthy and bitter geriatric; an athletically-talented young man whose promising future is complicated by a legacy of drug abuse and incarceration; an alcoholic who believes he is dying and wants to reunite with his estranged, selfish children, and many more unforgettable characters. These sound like bleak stories--and some have their moments of despair--but there are also recurring themes of hope and acceptance that bring a peaceful feeling to the tenor of the entire book.
Mattaponi Queen gained national notice when it won a slew of awards, most notably the Bread Loaf Bakeless prize and the Library of Virginia's Emyl Jenkins Sexton Literary Award for Fiction . To read more about Belle Boggs and Mattaponi Queen, see her website here.