Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 251
Challenges:
Southern Reading #3

First of all a big huge thank you to My Surly Friend for recommending this one (that link takes you to her review).

This is the story of the Moore family and of Carbon Hill, Alabama in 1931. The writing is wonderful, nearly every page holds a scene, paragraph, or phrase that evokes an emotion or sense of place. Life in the depression era in a coal mining town wasn’t easy for anyone. Even those who had more than others, had far less than what most would consider sufficient.

The book opens with nine year old Tess sitting in her favorite spot on the back porch near the well. The opening lines of the book grabbed me right away:

After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing the splash.

As if I could stop reading after that. Tess, her older sister Virgie, younger brother Jack and both of her parents Albert and Leta take turns telling this story. The reader is left with just a deep sense of place and time at the end of the book. These are characters that will stay with me for a while. Phillips has written some very real people. They are good people living in hard times.

As I said, nearly every page holds something that gives you a clear image or nudges an emotion, so here are just a few from randomly opening and scanning:

Sometimes it seemed like instead of the coal Papa and Mama has been put in the furnace, only instead of burning, they’d hardened and toughened to something that wouldn’t budge.

My knees stuck up over the old washtub, my elbows hanging over the side. It fit pants and shirts and drawers a whole lot better than it fit me.

And when she read aloud, she was beautiful, her eyes bright and her cheeks pink. Her voice turned into something new and strong and fascinating when she had somebody else’s words to read instead of her own.

Mama’s sister Emmaline died at eighteen, and Aunt Merilyn named her youngest daughter for her. That daughter’s granddaughter named her youngest daughter Emmaline. When the family and friends packed into a tiny maternity-ward room in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2004, text-messaging the good news while they waited their turn to tug at the fingers of a dark-headed baby, they were also touching some part of a girl who died quietly on top of a handmade quilt in 1906.

I’ll be looking for Gin Phillips’ next book and hoping it doesn’t take long – this is definitely a book worth reading and is one of the best I’ve read this year. Not for a page turning plot or action, but for a story of decent hard working people and a family who loves each other.