Southern Gothic

Another one of my diversions from the long road on my Shakespeare journey, hope you enjoy.

Its four o’clock in the morning, I have stayed up half the night to finish The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield. After I closed the book for the last time, I had read this memoir very quickly. I came down stairs and turned on my laptop, I know from experience if I didn’t write this as soon as I could, any thoughts I have on the book will slowly fade away.

This is the story of a young girl growing up in southern Kentucky. Her family live in a house above her fathers undertaker business. There’s her Mother and Father, a brother and two sisters. Frank Mayfield, is the undertaker, who opens the door of the dead for his daughter Kate, to freely observe him at work and learn about death. This book is full of the dead. Now that might sound morbid but it is not. It is definitely gothic, sometimes funny and sometimes sad. It is the story of two people, a father and his daughter. There is mental illness, dangerous racial liaisons and secrets. It is a complex story and a very brave and honest one. From a very young girl, who does a bit of her own haunting, when having to stay very quiet, when there is business of the dead taking place down stairs. To the rebellious teenager growing up in the seventies, with an urge to leave behind the small town of Jubilee, where southern ladies play bridge and gossip about every one they know and all the goings on in their small town. To the black side of the town, still segregated, even in the seventies.

The writing in this book is wonderful. It just flows along and the language is pure southern. I loved every sentence. The narrative jumps about a little, sometimes going from Kate as a teenager to her as a little girl again, but you never loose the thread for a second. The peripheral characters come and go and they only add too, and enrich the story. There is so much going on and so much between the lines that Miss Mayfield, skilfully allows you come to your own conclusions. This is really an autobiography, but reads like a novel, with shades of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mocking Bird. The Undertaker’s Daughter is in the tradition of that Great American writing.

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