Friday, March 19, 2010

Review of the Day: The Well and the Mine


Few debut novels are as polished and engaging as The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips. Set in the 1930s in Depression-ravaged Alabama, the book is the story of the hard-working Moore family. Their home is the center of attention after daughter Tess sees a woman throw a baby in their well.

Narration moves among the five family members: father Albert, a supervisor in the local coal mine, mother Teva, daughters Virgie and Tess, and son Jack. Phillips does not hide much from the reader, and narrative switches are indicated with the name of the speaking character. Only Jack tells his story from the perspective of his adult self, providing information about what happened to the family in the future.

The characters maintain distinct personalities – something authors using multiple perspectives often fail to accomplish. The precocious Tess is the most charming because she has an impish spark but an angel heart. She definitely brings to mind Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Although she observes life through a child’s eyes (“Jack had gotten me thinking about why we didn't ever see fairies in the woods. I figured something ate them.”), the story moves forward through the life lessons she learns.

These lessons involve the power of generosity, hospitality, and grace in the face of poverty, racism, hardship, and heartbreak. There is little in the way of cynicism, but neither is there schmaltz. The Well and the Mine has all the makings of a new classic, perfect for a book club discussion or a high school English class.



NOTES

Gin Phillips won the Discover Award for this book.

Fannie Flagg wrote the introduction.

I recommend getting the original edition published by the super cool Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts because it has the beautiful, thick, matte-finished cover with French flaps. 

The cover photo is credited to Eudora Welty.

OTHER REVIEWS

The Stones Inside My Shoes

(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


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