Written by Clyde Edgerton in 1987, Walking Across Egypt is a book that will make you look at the reality of aging from a new angle or a another point of view. It's a good read for anyone, young or older, who likes a story that's heartfelt and southern too. A 78 year-old widow, by the name of Mattie Rigsbee is the protagonist. She is a very self-sufficient older lady who hails from Listre, North Carolina, which is the setting for the story. Mattie is the the mother of two older adult children, a daughter and son, Elaine and Robert.
I like the fact that the author takes you into the mind of Mattie – some of her set ways and views about life. Although her children are insisting she go at a little slower pace, she is someone who is determined to make up her own mind about what she can or cannot do.
However, Edgerton reveals some signs that Mattie is indeed getting older as she isn’t mindful of the fact, for instance, that she is cleaning the commode with mouthwash instead of alcohol. Always one to take care of chores around the house as well as outdoor tasks like cutting the grass, she shows some indication that these activities have started becoming somewhat of a strain. For instance, she asks her son (Robert) later in the story if he can take care of the yard. Naturally, both children—Elaine and Robert—encourage their mother to take it more easy.
The two siblings become rather concerned when Mattie takes it on herself to help someone who they perceive to be a young miscreant. She invites Wesley Benfield, a juvenile delinquent, into her home by offering him a place to stay and also encourages him to attend church with her. She takes the pastor's message at church seriously - "What you to to the least of these, you do to me."
Even Mattie’s older sister, Pearl, believes her sister is behaving in a way not appropriate for a woman her age and paints a bleak picture for the future. However, Mattie doesn’t feel the same way. Mattie is made of stronger stuff than that and knows her place is to help Wesley and therefore looks toward the future optimistically.
You may be able to contrast the southern elements and lifestyle with Edgerton's other books, but this particular book has its own unique format, which is eloquently depicted by Mattie's central role in the plot and theme.
The book was made into a movie in 1999. The film features Ellen Burstyn in the role and Mattie and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who plays the character of Wesley.
Buy or borrow this book. It’s a good read.
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