Hewitt's (Georgia's Great Undertaking
, 2014, etc.) insightful family memoir provides a glimpse into the life of a complicated woman.
Maggie Mosteller McLendon lived a full life. She grew up listening to her father's and grandfather's stories of the hardships suffered by Southerners during the Civil War and died after witnessing the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement. From her little corner of the world, Maggie observed a great deal of change while clinging to her values and traditions. Author Hewitt was very close with Grandmother Maggie. She spent a good deal of her youth with her grandparents in Thermal, Alabama, a small mining town not far from Birmingham. Hewitt's memories of baking gingerbread and thumbing through old photo albums portray an enchanting childhood despite the threat of poverty looming in the background. Yet as Linda grows older, she realizes that Maggie is a complicated woman, and she struggles to reconcile her beloved grandmother with a woman who later vehemently blames women and blacks for the troubles of modern society. Hewitt paints a vivid portrait of a strong, intelligent and multifaceted person who is alternately admirable and upsetting. Hewitt's memoir is an honest study, balancing idyllic childhood memories with a more realistic and clinical look at the past. It's captivating to get to know Maggie through the eyes of a child, and later, from the viewpoint of an adult. The collapse of a small industrial Southern town runs parallel to Maggie's story, the effects of time taking its toll on both the woman and the place. Though personal reflection can hobble momentum, particularly in the final chapter, Maggie and her family stories will still entertain those outside the family. At its best, Maggie's recollections of neighbors and friends feel like trading gossip over the backyard fence. The vintage photographs and clever drawings by Robert Hewitt are a satisfying addition to the text.
Hewitt's memoir leaves us with the memory of a woman who is beautiful, strong, sad and difficult; i.e., human.
Read full book review >