Book Review: What Solomon Saw and Other Stories
Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 10:29AM
Windy City Reviews

What Solomon Saw and Other Stories. Mary Dean Cason. InkWit, December 5, 2014, 

Trade Paperback and Kindle, 246 pages. 

Reviewed by Stephanie Wilson Medlock.

Mary Dean Cason’s stories about growing up in the South are like Ray Bradbury’s re-creations of his boyhood in Illinois. Both writers can detail a place so vividly that you wish your own childhood mirrored the ones they describe. Cason’s Southern setting has the added benefit of showcasing characters whose sly wit takes you by surprise, along with a descriptive vocabulary that Bradbury’s Midwesterners could never imagine.

In What Solomon Saw, for example, eleven-year-old Martha Johnston recounts her older brother Lester’s abrupt infatuation with Libby, an insulting neighborhood girl whose new breasts suddenly outweigh her otherwise irritating personality. Martha describes the way Lester is rendered stupid by Libby’s budding bosom by quipping, “I could have carved better backbone out of a bar of soap.”

Lester’s preoccupation leads to a hilarious comedy of errors involving a tree house, a striptease, and a thunderstorm.

Not all of Cason’s stories are set in the South, and the protagonists range from a descendant of Charleston’s old families to an English battlefield nurse in World War II. Each tale is satisfyingly complete. Cason gives us the main character’s defining conflict, and with its resolution, we know her people and how they will react to the next set of challenges in their lives.

One of my favorite stories, “Speckled Bird,” describes Bailey Rose, a poor, young woman who has just given birth to her first child. Her World War II-veteran husband already wants a second, and when she rebuffs him because her body has not healed, he beats her — as does her father when he finds out. She says of herself,

“After being hit by Harlan and my daddy in the span of twenty-four hours, I saw my mama’s life laid out before me . . . We was both little bits of liquid silver, sliding under cushions, muffling who we was.”

How Bailey Rose decides to take back her sense of self proves as surprising to her husband as it is satisfying to the reader.

If there is a theme underlying these disparate tales, it is children and their importance to a woman’s life. This leitmotif appears in the delight of large families, the need to instruct and protect the young, the sorrow of infertility, the love that parents have for children from beyond the grave, even the promise of renewal from frozen embryos. Cason’s mothers are all protective, and whatever else they do, being a parent is clearly the center of their lives. If it sometimes strains credulity that all her women are constantly delighted in their maternal state, the beauty of Cason’s writing lulls us into agreement. In describing an orphan girl who grows up desperate for family, Cason writes:

“I should also mention that Addison had me [as a friend]. There were weeks it seemed she never left my house, so hungry for family she ate mine up with a ladle. It was there she grew fat—and fiercely loyal. Addison clung to us like molasses to biscuits.”

What Solomon Saw gives us many likeable characters and offers an affectionate take on parenting often missing in fiction, which stresses the dysfunction of the modern family. It is an essentially optimistic book.


Article originally appeared on Windy City Reviews (
See website for complete article licensing information.