By the Book: Review – ‘Chattanooga Girl’ by Dottie Coakley

Chattanooga Girl by Dottie Coakley
Chattanooga Girl by Dottie Coakley, Photo: David Mark/123RF

Dottie Coakley’s debut fiction, a novella titled Chattanooga Girl, is a testament to the benefits of being part of a writing group. Coakley—who “timidly joined” a writers’ group at Westhampton Free Library some years ago—has fashioned a heart-warming tale.

Thirty-something, courageous and compassionate Becca Simmons works as a governmental outreach counselor for migrants and seasonal farm workers in upstate New York. As the story begins, Becca discovers the bruised corpse of Golden Smith, the founder of a business that makes pallets for nearby factories and provides jobs for some of the area’s most disenfranchised residents.

In real life, Coakley was a Rural Labor Services Representative for the New York State Department of Labor. Her descriptions of Becca on the job, often in dangerous places and at night, resonate with authenticity.

Chattanooga Girl is a quiet celebration of those who dedicate themselves to important but rarely praised work. This small group also includes a widowed high school football coach who looks after young children in need of attention and care. Of course Becca and the coach find each other. And it’s pretty clear who the killer is and that he’ll soon be apprehended.

Plot points aside, the author’s descriptions of life among America’s rural poor enriches the narrative. Coakley’s prose is simple and unadorned; short chapters comprised of short paragraphs filled with details of domestic life. It’s the kind of tale that will likely prove attractive to the very people it’s about.

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