An Elisabeth Bocock bio by her daughter. David Baldacci's latest is required reading in Virginia schools.
A Real Richmond Character It's a lucky community that has a few characters especially ones who have a positive influence. Richmond has been particularly fortunate to count among its residents Elisabeth Scott Bocock, a character if there ever was one. Elisabeth Bocock was a moving spirit in the rescue of Church Hill; she was intensely interested in conservation and horticulture and in returning the trolleys to our city's streets. We have a lot for which to be grateful to her. But maybe, just maybe, we ought to be most grateful to her for the color and panache with which she lived. No one who knew her can forget her personality, which was not always soft, but was always interesting. They cannot forget her will of iron, the notes she wrote always in green ink, the jingles she used to lobby public officials to support her positions ("Trolleys are choked with glamour/Gasoline buses choke us and stammer"). Now, her daughter Mary Buford Hitz has given us "Never Ask Permission" (University of Virginia Press, $27.95), a portrait of Bocock as lady, civic activist and devoted family member. Hitz tells us in the first chapter: "I want to be able to convey the electricity of her person so that the reader can sense the stubbornness, the willfulness, the playful winsomeness of her character." When she died, her daughter says that the family was cleaning out the closets in her home and: "In an overhead closet in her room, stuffed in with the suitcases and hatboxes, was a long gray-and-white Montaldo's dress box. In it was a washed and ironed, blue-and-white checkered cotton dress. Pinned to the outside of the box was a note in her clear, fluid, bold handwriting, in her signature green ink. It read, 'Save for ESB to be buried in. This is the coolest dress I own, and I know it's hot where I'm going.'" Not a chance, Mrs. Bocock. Wherever you are, you do not need that dress. Rozanne EppsRequired Reading David Baldacci, master of megathrillers ("Simple Truth" and "Absolute Power") has stunningly changed course with the publication of his new novel "Wish You Well" (Warner Book, $24.95). In a dramatic departure from writing action-packed suspense novels, Baldacci turns to homespun storied woven from the fabric of his own Virginia history. Although it is fiction, the lyrical and haunting "Wish You Well" is based on the background of his mother, who now lives in Richmond. Baldacci's images of mountain life in the 1940s describe the harsh realities of the land, reflecting the hard times of a life without electricity, phones, medicine or modern transportation. His prose is poetic, laced with humor and filled with unforgettable characters. His is the story of family who survived and triumphed using wit, common sense, hard work and faith. The story tells of a family tragedy that sends 12-year-old Louisa Mae Cardinal, otherwise known as Lou, and her little brother, Oz, from New York to the rugged mountains of Southwestern Virginia to live with their great-grandmother. Lou is a tall, determined tomboy with dreams of becoming a writer like her deceased father. She is also the fierce protector of the younger Oz, who lives in a childhood world of optimism and dreams. In this mountain land Lou and Oz come of age in a setting full of adventure and unforgettable characters, anchored by the indomitable great-grandmother, Louisa, whose wisdom, common sense and love of the land is soon passed on to her grandchildren. Other characters include Louisa's black farm hand, nicknamed "Hell No" for his father's answer to the question if he was going to take care of his baby son. Add Young Jimmy Skinner, "called Diamond"; hateful George Davis, who works his children like mules; and a sympathetic country lawyer named Cotton Longfellow, who help nurse Lou and Oz's comatose mother. Powerful business outsiders threaten Louisa's land and an ensuing fire leads to a suspenseful courtroom showdown between Cotton and the ruthless attorneys of Southern Valley Coal and Gas. "Wish You Well" is a stunning achievement from a versatile author and gifted storyteller. It is a tale truly worthy of being chosen as required reading by Virginia schools. Our children will be immeasurably enriched. June Stephenson
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