A white Virginian family in the late 1950s struggles to stay together while enduring a failing marriage and racist neighbors in Morony’s debut historical drama.
For the Mackey family, 1957 changed everything, at least according to 7-year-old Sallee. The young narrator tells the story of her parents, Joe and Ginny; sisters Stuart and Helen; brother Gordy; and their maid, Ethel, a black woman who first worked for Ginny when they were both barely teenagers. Recent events take a toll on the family—nails are left in the driveway, possibly by someone opposed to the shopping center that Joe is overseeing; the kids become more aware of racial slurs from neighbors and a country still racially segregated (a “No coloreds allowed” comment nearly ruins a day at the movies with Ethel); and Joe and Ginny find their relationship severely strained. Even Ethel, the rock of the family who raised the kids as her own, is troubled, and a devastating experience has the homestead’s dependable, maternal maid “nipping at the gin” far too often. The novel grows dark and depressing, but because it’s shown through the eyes of Sallee, it maintains a naiveté and innocence. Ethel takes over as narrator for a few chapters, mostly to provide Sallee with some family history on her mother’s side, but she does tell about meeting her future husband, Early, and why the children are so important to her. There’s little violence and only a modicum of cursing, but Morony writes in a candid voice, refusing to sugarcoat the overt racism and making it clear that a small family in Virginia won’t change the bullheaded beliefs of others. Readers will be glad that they’ve stuck around for the bittersweet ending.
Even at its dourest, maintains a remarkable degree of refinement and Southern charm.