Sometimes you have to leave a place in order to appreciate it. Such was the case for Frances Mayes, who charts and examines her formative years before she wrote her blockbuster memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun. As a child, Mayes longed to escape her hometown of Fitzgerald, Georgia; she lived most of her adult life in Italy and California. But a trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for a book signing served as a conversion moment for Mayes. She and her husband relocated to Hillsborough, North Carolina, a small, historical enclave on the Eno River where many writers and artists reside.
"Often, seemingly spontaneous acts come from a deep, unacknowledged place," Mayes writes in Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir, as she re-imagines and re-creates the solitary, bookish, willful childhood she had in the pre-civil rights South. Mayes's unhurried, stream-of-consciousness narrative provides an intimate look into her upbringing, an "intense microcosm" of family, friends and a home where pride seemed to prevail over realism.
"Secretive, inverted things informed my childhood," writes Mayes, as she traces the complex connections of a small town. She renders the trajectory of her life story—the people and the places she's fled—via pivotal scenes infused with colorful characters and sensory imagery. In describing one of the first funerals she ever attended, Mayes writes, "The smell of roses feels so heavy it's as if we've stepped inside a flower. Pink shades on hanging lamps make the room glow like inside a shell." Such vivid, poetic prose serves to enhance the bittersweet journey of a natural-born storyteller who rediscovers and reclaims her Southern roots.
Crown, $26.00 Hardcover, 9780307885913, 336 pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (4/11/14), click HERE