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review 2019-06-10 16:12
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera
Call Your Daughter Home - Deb Spera

Set in South Carolina in 1924 'Call Your Daughter Home' details a community sharply divided by race and class. This novel gripped me with its powerful prose and its depiction of a woman prevailing under terrible circumstances. The novel centers on three women, but it is the opening chapters featuring Gertrude that remain with me still.


Gertrude is the daughter of poor white farmers and is trapped in marriage with a cruel and abusive man. Her four daughters are depending on her, but she has few options left. Annie is wife to the most powerful and respected man in the county, and has had her own success in business, but something has torn her family apart. Retta was born a free woman, but she works, as her mother did before her after emancipation, for the Coles, who had kept her family as slaves. Her faith and compassion allow her to bridge the distance between the two other women.


I loved the writing, but there is a problematic aspect to the novel. Retta is a fully-developed character, but, without giving away important plot elements, there is a subservient role to her part of the story, above and beyond her employment as a cook, that goes beyond what is appropriate for the period. The overall effect of the novel is positive - note my rating - but I have nagging doubts about some of the tropes in effect with her character. I'd be interested in hearing other's opinions about this.

Note: I read an early and uncorrected proof of the novel (earlier then most arcs), changes may have been made.

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review 2019-02-13 23:12
Flocks by Leigh Nichols
Flocks - Leigh Nichols

'Flocks' by Leigh Nichols is a memoir about growing up in the South in a breaking home, being a part of a religious community, being intelligent, and not belonging for reasons that can't be expressed. There have been a lot of graphic memoirs published lately, the medium allows for a balance of raw honesty and subtle expression that is appealing.


I'll be honest, I picked this up at Winter Institute because of the dolls on the cover. I was thinking of adding to my husband's side collection of books featuring dolls and toys. The subject matter of a young trans man working his way towards acceptance and happiness is better that your average creepy doll book.


I liked how open Nichols was about his faith and what it meant to him growing up and now. It was a simultaneous source of comfort and pain to him, and it took a long time to reconcile the intolerance and hostility and the kindness and support coming from the same individuals. This is a thorny problem to grapple and I think Nichols does it well. Though there really isn't anything I would call "adult content", the depth of this work makes it more suitable to mature teens or older readers.

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review 2010-11-28 00:00
The Little Friend
The Little Friend - Donna Tartt

What would have happened to Scout Finch without her father to influence her, and imagine her brother Jem being strung up by his neck when she was still a baby.

Now take Mick from 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter', and imagine her loneliness without the respite of music, or anyone at all that she believed she could talk to.

'The Little Friend's Harriet Cleve Dusfrenes is a clear descendent of the heroines of Harper Lee and Carson McCullers, but Donna Tartt expands on her setting. She luxuriates in the details of her characters' past lives, their relationships with each other, and over everything is the heavy presence of memory.

Harriet is a literary creature, acting out biblical scenes with her friends and referencing 'Treasure Island' and 'Sherlock Holmes', piecing together and romanticizing her family's rich past through scattered heirloom furniture and photographs. It took a reference to 'Dark Shadows' well into the book for me to get a specific decade of when the story was taking place.

Tartt has made Harriet too precocious to be true in my opinion, but much about her, and the rest of the characters, of great and little importance, are authentic in their mannerisms and their motivations.

There is the matter of the ending, which may not be traditionally satisfying (I'll say nothing else) but, toying with it in my mind the rest of the night, I realized it was fitting. There's a point early on in the novel that sums up to me most what this book conveyed. Harriet begins her quest to find her brother's killers by asking her close family about the day it happened, breaking a strict taboo.

Harriet's great-aunt Libby instead tells her a story of something that happened several days beforehand. One morning, Libby, who had never married, walked back into her bedroom and discovered a man's hat on her bed. It was well-made, and on investigation, purchased from out of town.

Having heard this story many times before, Harriet is skeptical, but Libby insists it would have been impossible for someone to have sneaked into the house in the short time she'd left the room, they would have had to pass either her or her maid Odean. How can it be explained then, Harriet demands.

Some things happen in life, her aunt tells her, that can't ever be explained.

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review 2010-09-05 00:00
Complete Novels of Carson McCullers
Complete Novels: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter / Reflections in a Golden Eye / The Ballad of the Sad Cafe / The Member of the Wedding / Clock Without Hands (Library of America #128) - Carson McCullers,Carlos L. Dews

I rated each novel individually

'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter': 5 Stars

What a brilliantly sad novel, I'd read this once before in college, but I was still drawn in and captivated from the first lines. McCullers has created a real melancholy here, describing the four townspeople: a young girl, a shop-owner, a drifter and a black doctor, all drawn to the deaf-mute Singer with precision. Even reading it a second time I couldn't quite catch the subtle changes in narration when the novel shifted perspectives that identified the individuals for me before they were identified by name.

The center of the novel is the transference of each characters hopes and dreams onto Singer, pouring their hearts out to him while- with the slight exception of the shop-owner - never trying to see through to his heart.

'Reflections in a Golden Eye': 4 Stars

Very good, well-laid out - I especially liked her characterization of Alison Langdon and Captain Penderton. It was beautifully done, set up almost like a mystery, naming a crime and those involved so that the entire time one was reading it theories and revelations circled the brain. I might be docking points only because it was so brief (though I can't see it being any longer than it was)...

'The Ballad of the Sad Cafe': 2 Stars

There just wasn't much here, an interesting stock of characters with Miss Amelia and Cousin Lymon at the front. I just never got into this particular sad world that McCullers created. All I felt was irritation and frustration at their actions.

'The Member of the Wedding': 4 Stars

McCullers captured Frankie's, excuse me, F. Jasmine's restlessness and sadness in only a few pages, only a few gestures and her sullenness. Reading this made me remember how I felt at that age, 12 going on 13, how stagnant the world suddenly became, changing dynamics with friends and I especially sympathized with that reluctance to stop playacting and playing.

That seeking out of something to replace that, finding a 'we' to become, is a huge thing to encompass and McCullers for the most part accomplishes it. The story did drag a little bit in the middle but the ending was satisfying, and has one of my favorite closing lines in any book.

'Clock Without Hands': 4 Stars

McCuller's final novel, begun in the early 1950s and taking most of the decade to complete, is of its time and a passionate look at the turmoil in the South as the Civil Rights movement mounted and a harsh portrayal of the hypocrisy of the old order. It's also about death and how the knowledge of it can bring out the best and worst in individuals.

Overall, McCullers is worthy of all the praise she's received. There are ups and downs in her writing of course but as a single entity these novels are so insightful and absorbing that I can't give this collection anything less then full marks.

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