Four sisters keep vigil over their dying father and find themselves reminiscing over a bittersweet family history.
Goethe’s (River Bow, 2013, etc.) nostalgic and affecting novel is set in the Deep South and follows the lives of Matthew and Margaret Sobral and their four daughters: Rebecca, Elizabeth, Kate, and Emily. The book opens in the springtime of 1980 in south Louisiana. The girls’ mother has recently died, and their father has taken to his bed, stricken by a broken heart. As the daughters watch over their dying dad, they recall their childhood growing up in a progressive family in the racially prejudiced South. Intertwined is the story of their parents’ meeting and courtship, she a plucky newspaper reporter and he a genteel headmaster. The tale’s timeline is tacked skillfully and accurately to key historical events of the era. For example, Margaret and Matthew’s lives are affected by a GI—who owns the home they are renting— returning from war on the same day that Margaret gives birth to their first child. Similarly, the emergence of Elvis Presley and the John F. Kennedy assassination have significant impacts on the family, further enhancing the tale’s vivid realism. The sisters’ conversations paint a rich and colorful portrait of growing up in the South, as they recall playing “Devil in the Ditch” against a unique rural backdrop: “It was so scary, the scariest game I ever played,” Elizabeth asserts. And Emily replies, “Because the devil was alive to us….Whatever kid was in the ditch trying to catch us, drag us down, while we jumped back and forth across the ditch, whatever kid that was, truly became the devil.” This capturing of childhood innocence is juxtaposed with deliciously perceptive commentary from the narrator: “Later the sisters will blame their mother for almost everything wrong about them, or their lives. The mothers are the easiest to blame…too meek, too cloying or—in the case of Margaret Sobral—too remote. The mother tends to be the ‘sitting duck’ for the family shooting gallery.” The result is a moving, emotionally intuitive tale, littered with surprises, that brings a branch of the Sobral family tree vibrantly to life.
An articulate and stirring Southern story written from the heart.