Last Ride to Graceland

Last Ride to GracelandLast Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright
Genres: Contemporary, Women's Fiction
Published by Gallery Books on May 24, 2016
Pages: 326

 

About Last Ride to Graceland (from the back cover):
Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth. A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother, Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She returned home pregnant to South Carolina and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’ estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling Deep South, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her mother’s past.

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: I’m not all that interested in Elvis. I know, I know. He was the King. But I’m not one of those people who is fascinated by him. I’ve never wondered all that much about what happened at Graceland during the days leading up to his death. If that’s up your alley, then you’ll love this story even more than I did. And that was the best surprise for me—that even though the premise didn’t wow me, I ended up absolutely loving this story.

Cory is an endearing character—a bit down on her luck—and someone you root for from the start.

Last Ride to Graceland is told from the perspectives of Cory and her mother. Cory is an endearing character—a bit down on her luck—and someone you root for from the start. I appreciated how shortly after we’re introduced to her, she embarks on this life-changing journey. Wright wastes no time in getting things going.  At times Cory seems a bit younger than her stated age of thirty-seven, but I wasn’t too bothered by it. I think it was part of her personality (and of course the math needed to work out…). As she travels through the Deep South, Cory meets various people along the way. Former friends of her mother’s, such as Marilee Jones, help her out. Others turn out to be potential father candidates—men who knew Cory’s mother back when she was a backup singer for Elvis. Wright deftly conveys Cory’s ups and downs along the way.

Wright deftly conveys Cory’s ups and downs along the way.

The portions narrated by Cory’s mother—Laura when she was in Beaufort, Honey when she was with Elvis—are captivating as well and provide a peek into what it might have been like to tour with Elvis and to live at Graceland. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Honey and Elvis and the descriptions of Elvis’ haunting history, personality quirks, and sad decline.

Wright explains in the Author’s Note that she drove the route from Beaufort, South Carolina to Memphis, Tennessee as part of her research, stopping in Macon, Fairhope, and Tupelo before arriving at Graceland. This doesn’t surprise me because the descriptions of each town made me feel like I was there (Fairhope in particular sounds adorable!). The attention to detail—the sights, sounds, smells—ensure that we are along for the ride with Cory.

The ending provides a very satisfying conclusion, as sweet as Tupelo honey.

If you appreciate a southern voice, you’ll love Wright’s writing both in this novel and in her previous works. At times it’s laugh-out loud funny.  At one point, Cory describes watching “the social acceptability of Georgia slowly give way to the anxiety of Alabama and then the complete throwing-in-the-towel-ness of Mississippi.” In other spots, it’s gut-wrenching: Cory calls the cancer that took her mother’s life “the ragin’ Cajun kind of cancer that takes you from daiquiris to the funeral home in five minutes flat.”

I liked the way both storylines in Last Ride to Graceland were wrapped up. The ending provides a very satisfying conclusion, as sweet as Tupelo honey.

Please note this title is not CBA. Readers who are offended by references to premarital sex or by swearing may not appreciate the novel.

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