This book was thoroughly enjoyable to read. Don’t be put off by the title. Although Miss Dreamsville has lots of humor and will have you shaking your head “yes” in agreement with many of the small-town types and things the characters say, it also has a moral lesson and scenes from history woven throughout.
The story takes place in 1962 in a sleepy Collier County, Fla., town when Florida was still part of the South in every way. Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, recall the turbulence of the Civil Rights
Movement. Distrust — and often hate — were aimed at outside agitators who came from up North to upset our way of life. Jackie Hart and her family did not move to Naples, Fla., to be outside agitators. They moved there from Boston when Jackie’s husband took a job with the county’s leading and richest businessman.
As the book’s narrator, Dora Witherspoon, puts it, “From the get-go, Jackie was a troublemaker in the eyes of the town fathers, but to the few of us who gave her a chance, her arrival in town was a godsend.”
Jackie started a reading group at the public library. The book club pulled in seven odd characters, including a quiet plain Jane who secretly writes lusty romance novels; a woman just released from prison for murdering her husband; one Negro maid brave enough to join and hoping to go to college; and one man, who is the town’s only openly-gay citizen.
Jackie, the hapless but charming Yankee, is not content just to start a reading group; she accepts an invitation to host a late-night radio show. She dubs herself Miss Dreamsville and disguises her voice (you know, gotta cover up that Boston accent). She slips in and out of the station to pre-record the show, thus keeping her identity a secret. There’s lots of conjecture around town as to who the sexy-sounding woman on the radio is. Her identity is revealed in a startling way.
Things are going fairly well until Jackie is delivering members of the book club to their homes one night, (including the Negro member) and comes across hooded KKK members burning a Negro church. Everything goes downhill from there for Jackie and her family and members of the book club. Her reaction is one of several ways Jackie sends the conservative, racially segregated town into an uproar.
This book is Hearth’s first novel, but she is the author or coauthor of seven works of nonfiction, including Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, a bestseller that became a Broadway play.