A lyrical and evocative memoir from Frances Mayes, the Bard of Tuscany, about coming of age in the Deep South and the region’s powerful influence on her life.
The author of three beloved books about her life in Italy, including Under the Tuscan Sun and Every Day in Tuscany, Frances Mayes revisits the turning points that defined her early years in Fitzgerald, Georgia. With her signature style and grace, Mayes explores the power of landscape, the idea of home, and the lasting force of a chaotic and loving family.
From her years as a spirited, secretive child, through her university studies—a period of exquisite freedom that imbued her with a profound appreciation of friendship and a love of travel—to her escape to a new life in California, Mayes exuberantly recreates the intense relationships of her past, recounting the bitter and sweet stories of her complicated family: her beautiful yet fragile mother, Frankye; her unpredictable father, Garbert; Daddy Jack, whose life Garbert saved; grandmother Mother Mayes; and the family maid, Frances’s confidant Willie Bell.
Under Magnolia is a searingly honest, humorous, and moving ode to family and place, and a thoughtful meditation on the ways they define us, or cause us to define ourselves. With acute sensory language, Mayes relishes the sweetness of the South, the smells and tastes at her family table, the fragrance of her hometown trees, and writes an unforgettable story of a girl whose perspicacity and dawning self-knowledge lead her out of the South and into the rest of the world, and then to a profound return home.
Set in the author's "one-mile-square" hometown of Fitzgerald in the backwoods of Georgia, Mayes's (Every Day in Tuscany) latest memoir depicts a childhood of rich meals and drunk, impatient parents her adoring and violent father and her restless alcoholic mother. Mayes endures their "long night sieges," distracting herself with books and seeking comfort from Willie Bell, the family cook. The portrayal of Willie Bell is refreshingly unromantic, written with candor and respect as Mayes refers to her as an ally, adding "it was not a cozy, member-of-the-family thing she and I simply knew we were in it together." When Mayes refers to fleeing the South, her reasoning is more tied to ambition than victimhood. Her accounts of high school and college first at Randolph-Macon, then at University of Florida are teeming with tales of friendships and eager suitors. Though the prose is dazzling throughout, Mayes's best stories are the early ones. In an especially moving scene, she sits outside in a car while her father dies in the house. Her uncle urges her to come inside, saying "Sugar, you better go in and say good-bye." Readers will not tire of Mayes' splendid imagery.
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Frances Mayes' memoir is beautifully written. In fact, throughout the book, we see evidence that she was a natural writer. From childhood on, she thought and processed things with the heart of a writer. Mayes does a good job of capturing a childhood in South Georgia, including the oppressive heat and humidity that reign five months a year and always has, even back in her childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s. Unless you have lived in the South and experienced the blistering climate, you have no idea how draining it is, and how it affects everyone and everything. It's a different world from the places where people get to experience more cool weather. She delves into relationships - the good, the bad and the ugly. She isn't bitter, but she doesn't gloss over unpleasantnesss, either - good balance. This book is for anyone who is a writer, wants to be a writer, or is simply a bilbiophile. I loved reading something by someone whose lifelong love of books permeates her story.
This book was incredibly boring; never getting to the point of anything. Sure Ms. Mayes’ family life may have been difficult, but she also was extremely spoiled and lived a life that many of us wish we had been able to also live. Boo boo, Frances. Wish I hadn’t spent the money on this book.