A sweeping memoir chronicling the origins of the author's family and their subsequent struggle with poverty.
After getting to know much-older Bowman Mercer through a pen-pal service, Pearl, the author’s mother, eventually leaves her abusive brother and their inherited house to move to Wyoming as Bowman’s wife. She weathers their paltry circumstances and survives Jeanette’s grueling birth and a near-poisoning by a jealous woman. As a little girl, the author lived in homes with dirt floors and rarely bathed, which often made her and her family–her parents and sister, Virginia–an object of ridicule. Nonetheless, she lived a largely happy childhood, developing a resilient, stubborn nature, and benefiting from her indulgent but well-meaning parents and helpful townspeople. With poignant empathy, the author successfully traces Pearl’s transformation from a pleasant, shy beauty to an unkempt grouch prone to hysterics. She also understands how to build suspense, but inexplicably sabotages her own groundwork by giving away key plot elements in the chapter titles. For instance, a new neighbor’s spooky friendliness–skillfully brought to life on the page–is prematurely explained by the chapter’s title, â€œGraduation, A Child Molester.”
The occasional clunky point-of-view problem and repetition aside, Gardner offers an entertaining and heartfelt story.