I’ve been happily immersed in women’s lives this week…a critical study of Jane Kenyon and her poetry (Jane Kenyon, A Literary Life, by John Timmerman), followed by a delightful trip down south in (Going Down South, by Bonnie Glover), and now I’ve cast myself into a welcome reunion of the gang at Walker and Daughter – that’s right, Kate Jacobs has brought back the group from Friday Night Knitting Club in a new novel Knit Two (scheduled for publication in November 2008).
Amidst all the estrogen flying around my reading room, it’s not surprising that I’ve been a bit moody and emotional this week. I can find no other explanation, other than the poignant beauty of autumn, which sometimes leaves me a bit teary eyed.
And I even managed to shed a few tears while reading Going Down South, which is not really a sad or melancholy story – it simply shares some “down home” style truths about family life which cut rather close to the bone for me. It’s a story about three generations of very proud, strong willed women who learn to respect each other’s choices and forge a family despite their differences. It’s about women making the best of what life deals them, and staying strong for one another when they need it.
It’s about the legacy of love between a mother, her daughter, and her grandaughter, something I’ve explored in my own writing, as well as in my life. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up, and since I was the only daughter of an only daughter, the three of us formed quite a bond – not always easy or comfortable, mind you, but one filled with love, strength, and support.
In Going Down South, fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself pregnant, and her mother, Daisy, decides to whisk her away from their life in New York city to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama – even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie informs her wayward daughter that Olivia Jean can stay, but Daisy will have to stay as well. So under Birdie’s little roof in the deep south of the 1960’s, they learn to share their secrets, heal old wounds, and lean on each other for strength and comfort.
The womens relationships with men certainly complicate things (they always do, don’t they?) – Daisy’s obsessive attachment to her husband, Turk, and Birdie’s long, secret relationship with her “employer,” – have created problems for each of them in relation to their daughters. At times, both women seemed to “choose” their man over their child, a perception that leaves lasting scars on the young girls.
…Daisy kept thinking that finally Olivia Jean was beginning to learn what life was all about. There was no sense in trying to be loving when people only batted you down. Better to be cold than to keep getting hurt. Olivia Jean had to understand that not even a parent could be relied on when the chips were down. One day, maybe not soon, but one day Daisy knew that Olivia Jean would thank her. Because Daisy was really the one who loved her daughter…”
Glover cites Bastard Ouf of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison, as a major influence in the devlopment of Going Down South. ” While reading Bastard Out of Carolina, I thought about how different women may make different decisions, depending on an infinite number of variables. I knew that the themes of motherhood and choice were going to figure in Going Down South, but I didn’t know exactly how the novel was going to come together.”
It comes together through the personalities of its characters, and Glover has done a marvelous job creating three totally distinct women who forge their family ties in a believeable and natural way. A thoroughly enjoyable story, and one that will touch the heart of every woman who is a mother (or a daughter!)
And now I’m off to enjoy the remainder of this beautiful, fall Sunday evening – perhaps a little walk with the dogs, and maybe I’ll even drop in on my mother, who lives just “down the street.”