The account of a writer's quest to understand her place in the grand generational scheme of her family.
Poet McClanahan (Deep Light, 2007, etc.) was the family "archive junkie [and] keeper of all things outdated and moldy.” Then one day, she realized that for all her apparent knowledge, the truth about her forebears' lives was "wider and deeper" than she realized. She begins her account by delving into the pages of her Great Aunt Bessie's 1897 diary, interweaving actual fragments from it with her own imaginative reconstructions of Bessie's life in rural Indiana. McClanahan then builds on the day-to-day details of Bessie’s letters, pictures and other family documents to construct a narrative that depicts a hardworking family of farmers and day laborers who helped tame the Indiana frontier and build its cities. She includes a whole cast of colorful family characters but emphasizes the relationships between and among the females, including Bessie, her sister, their mother and the author’s mother; it was the women who unwittingly served as family chroniclers. Inevitably, McClanahan's research uncovers painful secrets, including her grandmother's possible participation in Women of the KKK. The narrative is complex, with the author attempting to depict several generations within a family but also place that family within larger historical contexts. Because it focuses on the minutiae of lived reality (especially in the first half of the text) and tries to do too much at once, it may leave readers—except perhaps those with a specific interest in early Hoosier social history—in a knot of frustration.
Moving at times, but narratively overreaching.