The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat follows best friends Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean as they face the trials and tribulations of life in Plainview, Indiana. Over four decades, these “Supremes” rely on each other through crumbling marriages, devastating illness, and the other curveballs life throws at them. In this exclusive essay for The Reading Group Center, author Edward Kelsey Moore talks about the inspiration behind these indomitable women.
The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is a novel about friendship, love, and courage. It began with a conversation about bravery that I had with a close friend. Even though my friend and I are men who had great fathers and strong male role models, both of us held the opinion that the most courageous person we knew was a woman. I was working on another novel at the time, but that conversation made such a big impression on me that I put my project aside and wrote down a few thoughts about how examples of male and female courage are often responded to and rewarded differently. Later, I wondered what life might be like for a woman who wasn’t just brave, but didn’t or couldn’t recognize fear. How would her courage be expressed in daily life? Would other people admire her or want to strangle her? What kind of romantic relationships would she have? What sort of friends would be drawn to such a woman, and would they be made stronger or weaker by knowing her? My Supremes, Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice, were born from the answers I came up with to those questions.
In trying to breathe life into Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice, I relied upon the voices of the women of my family. I grew up around women who delighted in one another’s company, were fiercely loyal and wildly funny. They were also master storytellers who could mine laughs from life events that were mundane or even tragic. I was hooked on storytelling the moment I first overheard my favorite great-aunt offer a gleefully scathing critique of a beloved family member’s funeral that failed to meet her high standards in a way that had a roomful of women crying with laughter. After being fed a constant diet of incredibly well-told tales as a youngster, it would have been a greater challenge for me not to have been inspired to write.
Because I want the members of my extended family to continue speaking to me, I didn’t re-create family stories when I wrote The Supremes. But I did imagine how the great storytellers of my youth—my mother, my aunts, my cousins—might have spun the tale had they chosen to relate a saga about love, friendship, fortune-telling, and inebriated ghosts. I hope that readers of The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat recognize Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice as people who could easily come up in a conversation with a close friend or be welcomed at a family gathering, and that readers will connect with the spirit that inspired them.
Want to know more about The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat? Read an excerpt from the novel here.