In Mbinguni’s novel, a young girl encounters caring women while on the run with her murderous father.
In Maplewood, Georgia, Hannah Maynard, known to everyone as “Mouse,” is a happy 7-year-old girl. She adores her parents and spends hours in the garden, laying “still on my blanket until my bones hurt, hoping I wouldn’t scare any of the creatures away.” But her father, Ray, is struggling. There’s unrest at his job after a big fire at the mill where he works, and his own mother has just died of cancer. As Hannah puts it, “there was no space to get through his grief.” Hoping to quell his pain, Hannah’s mother plans to throw him a surprise 30th birthday party. But when he doesn’t show up, family friend Johnny B goes looking for him, finally returning with him hopelessly drunk. The drunken Ray misconstrues a harmless embrace between Johnny B and Hannah’s mother, and he turns violent after Johnny B departs. Later that evening, Hannah watches her dad shoot her mom dead. He then flees the scene and takes his daughter with him. The pair stay in the boardinghouse of a kind woman named Ms. Janie and later live for years in a brothel run by the generous, loving Ms. Sookie. Indeed, wherever they go, Hannah is surrounded by kind, powerful, and strong women. The novel, set primarily in the 1950s and ’60s, tells a skillful story about the power of female camaraderie in spite of the horrific violence against a woman near the start of the narrative. Although Hannah has lost her biological mother, she has a coterie of women looking out for her who quickly become like family—a theme that the author deftly evokes throughout the book. Later, when Ray has a child with another woman, Hannah is not upset; rather, she says that “I was in love with him from the moment I held him.” Her generosity of spirit is quietly moving and beautifully rendered through fine dialogue and descriptions.
An often engaging story about found families in the wake of tragedy.