In this novelistic memoir, a woman chronicles her anguish under her father’s tyranny and her escape through education.
Grace Marie Hall is born in Arkansas in the 1940s, the middle child chronologically sandwiched between her older brother, Joe Buck, and her younger sister, Violet. Her family is poor, but Grace doesn’t really feel the weight of deprivation until she goes to school, meets her peers, and indulges in comparisons. Nevertheless, the bane of her existence isn’t financial scarcity but her father’s mercurial temper and despotic rule of the household, with his autocratic style of governance routinely permitted by a neurotically acquiescent mother. Grace finds a reprieve from the dull monotony of rural routines in books and vows to go to college, her ticket out of Arkansas, much to her father’s chagrin. But she marries Duddie Loomis, a man she met in grade school, and bears a child, a development that temporarily waylays her plans. Grace’s marriage is a tempestuous one—her rabidly racist husband is prone to violence—and she eventually returns home with her daughter. She ultimately manages to finish college and graduate school, a decade-long process, and escapes to California, where she meets Nick, a doctor and a delightfully stable human being. But Grace keeps getting pulled back to the dysfunctional home from which she delivered herself to care for her mother, addled with Alzheimer’s, and to help when Violet is beset by mental illness and cancer and when her father dies. In her engrossing work, Miller (The French, 1983) writes with both zest and charm. She laces the story with insightful aperçus about the claustrophobia of rural Arkansas while celebrating the power of literature (“I lived in these books, and they lived in my head and heart long after I was forced to put them down and do my homework or chores”). The memoir is only slightly fictionalized and follows closely the actual journey of the author, and as a result reads more like a remembrance than a novel. In either case, the tale remains intrepidly candid and offers a well-crafted peek at rustic life.
An emotionally astute account of the oppressive confines of an unhappy family life.