Reading about the sultry deep South in the snowy deep South…

Monday here was atrocious, cold with a grip like a vice, intermittent snow, hail and sleet falls and – general miserableness abounded.

Except at my place because I was reading Frances Mayes’ (of Under a Tuscan Sun fame) new memoir about growing up in a small town called Fitzgerald in south Georgia. Under Magnolia: a Southern Memoir is, I think, one of my most favourite books so far this year – a fascinating glimpse of a family seemingly determined to embody almost every Southern gothic trope you’ve heard of, glorying in, and trapped by, the molasses-thick deadly, alluring and startling mix of genteel politeness, rigid social constructs and disturbing undercurrents and brutalities that was the Old South. Oh, and it is so beautifully written, I thought it was much better than Under the Tuscan Sun, illuminating why Mayes was so immediately at home in her Tuscan hill town, after this particular childhood.

One of the reasons it works is that Mayes explores her feelings and thoughts now about the events she witnessed as a child, while also capturing the immediate puzzlement, anger and joy that the child experienced – which is a hard double act for writer to pull off. It is very honest, and very intimate, lyrical, with several larger-than-life characters, whom Mayes observes with clarity and charity.


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