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UNDER MAGNOLIA by Frances Mayes Kirkus Star


A Southern Memoir

by Frances Mayes

Pub Date: April 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-88591-3
Publisher: Crown

A captivating memoir by Mayes (Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life, 2010, etc.) recalling life growing up in a small Southern town and how the region permeated her psyche.

Though the author fled southern Georgia when she was a young woman seeking an alternative vantage point for experiencing life, the departure from her small hometown did not come without internal turmoil. “When I left the South at age twenty-two, the force that pushed me west was as powerful as the magnet that pulled me,” she writes. The author landed in the San Francisco Bay Area, “the optimistic bellwether for the country,” and called Italy home for a time. Eventually, Mayes built a life as a wife, mother, author and teacher. During a stop in Mississippi, the South once again forcefully insinuated itself into the author’s consciousness: “I’m pressed to know: why the exuberance and melancholy attacked me, why the abrupt heart flips, why the primal rush of memory, why this physical magnetism that feels dangerous….” Mayes and her husband then departed California for North Carolina. Larded with deliciously evocative sensory memories, the narrative dissects the author’s early years growing up in a loving yet turbulent family; her parents’ alcohol-fueled, long-troubled relationship; the verdant landscape dappled with hints of menace; the notion of home; and the role place plays in developing the psyche. Mayes recounts her childhood when she “didn’t know the word ‘racism.’ Black/white polarity was the God-given order of things.” She finds it “impossible to relive that state of mind.” Mayes recalls how the restrictive social atmosphere at the all-female college she attended chafed yet also provided space for developing a strong core self and lifelong female friendships. The author also captures the trauma of her father’s premature death followed by her mother’s long, sad decline.

One of those books you want to devour but realize it’s more satisfying to savor for as long as possible.