Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Southern Surprise

Frances Mayes' newest memoir has been sitting on my shelf since October when I visited Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville and walked away with an advanced reader copy.  Packing for my beach trip, I knew I needed a paperback to read outside, since several of my other options are my signed first editions from Lemuria. In other words, my selection process is sometimes more practical than methodical. Random chance rewarded me.

I was familiar with Mayes from the moving version of her book Under the Tuscan Sun and from her novel Swan, but my familiarity stopped there. By the first chapter--actually the prologue-- I was hooked.  While the book is primarily an account of growing up in a dysfunctional Southern family, it is also a love letter to the South.  She begins by describing a visit to Faulkner's South that convinced her it was time to come home after living in Italy and ending up in California.

Mayes grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia, a town created by Southern and Northern soldiers after  the Civil War. Surrounded by extended family, she was raised by volatile parents whose fights were often fueled by alcohol. Her account however, is not a whining tome of self pity.  Instead it is woven together with prose that often merited reading aloud (Sorry, Claudia!)

I was tickled to learn that Mayes ended up in Hillsborough, North Carolina, unquestionably fertile soil for literature.  In the acknowledgements, she mentions one of my favorite Southern gentlemen Allan Gurganus, as well as husband and wife authors Lee Smith and Hal Crowther.  

I'm always fascinated to learn what factors lead some people to a writing life.  On my way back home from Florida, as we drove past the exit for Fitzgerald, I was tempted to stop and drink the water.


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