Sanders (the well-received Clover, 1990) returns with a life story that seems to hum along so simply it takes a while to notice that it resonates as powerfully as an old hymn. Mae Lee Barnes grows up on a small South Carolina farm, marries young, and gives birth to five children. When her husband abandons her, she carries on, expanding her farmland, handpicking cotton in the fields, and stashing her money in hiding places around the house. After her children are grown and successfully launched, Mae Lee moves from the farm to a new house in town and, at her son's urging, volunteers as the first black woman on the hospital auxiliary. It's the stuff of a simple life, and Sanders doesn't dress it up with any unnecessary heroics or hyperbole- -although, occasionally, her strong, clear prose slides into an intrusive journalese (``The civil rights revolution, spreading across the South, opened the way for Mae Lee Barnes's dream of educating her children beyond high school, in college''). Mostly, though, the language holds, and the small details, the homely miracles of everyday life, give this story its eloquence. Mae Lee is no crusader, but her tea parties with her hospital co-workers are a civil rights revolution in themselves. She's no comedian, but when she sits on her porch exchanging sharp remarks with best friend Ellabelle, it's hard not to laugh out loud. She's stubborn, crafty, ladylike, and loving--the best of anybody's grandmother. She'd object to being called a heroine, but, secretly, it would please her. Small, sharp truths and day-to-day details add up to a story that's larger than life here--that's the cipher of fine writing.