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One Good Mama Bone: A Novel
     

One Good Mama Bone: A Novel

by Mary Alice Monroe
 

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Set in early 1950s rural South Carolina, One Good Mama Bone chronicles Sarah Creamer’s quest to find her “mama bone,” after she is left to care for a boy who is not her own but instead is the product of an affair between her husband and her best friend and neighbor, a woman she calls “Sister.” When her husband drinks himself to

Overview


Set in early 1950s rural South Carolina, One Good Mama Bone chronicles Sarah Creamer’s quest to find her “mama bone,” after she is left to care for a boy who is not her own but instead is the product of an affair between her husband and her best friend and neighbor, a woman she calls “Sister.” When her husband drinks himself to death, Sarah, a dirt-poor homemaker with no family to rely on and the note on the farm long past due, must find a way for her and young Emerson Bridge to survive. But the more daunting obstacle is Sarah’s fear that her mother’s words, seared in her memory since she first heard them at the age of six, were a prophesy, “You ain’t got you one good mama bone in you, girl.”

When Sarah reads in the local newspaper that a boy won $680 with his Grand Champion steer at the recent 1951 Fat Cattle Show & Sale, she sees this as their financial salvation and finds a way to get Emerson Bridge a steer from a local farmer to compete in the 1952 show. But the young calf is unsettled at Sarah’s farm, crying out in distress and growing louder as the night wears on. Some four miles away, the steer’s mother hears his cries and breaks out of a barbed-wire fence to go in search of him. The next morning Sarah finds the young steer quiet, content, and nursing a large cow. Inspired by the mother cow’s act of love, Sarah names her Mama Red. And so Sarah’s education in motherhood begins with Mama Red as her teacher.

But Luther Dobbins, the man who sold Sarah the steer, has his sights set on winning too, and, like Sarah, he is desperate, but not for money. Dobbins is desperate for glory, wanting to regain his lost grand-champion dynasty, and he will stop at nothing to win. Emboldened by her lessons from Mama Red and her budding mama bone, Sarah is committed to victory even after she learns the winning steer’s ultimate fate. Will she stop at nothing, even if it means betraying her teacher?

McClain’s writing is distinguished by a sophisticated and detailed portrayal of the day-to-day realities of rural poverty and an authentic sense of time and place that marks the best southern fiction. Her characters transcend their archetypes and her animal-as-teacher theme recalls the likes of Water for Elephants and The Art of Racing in the Rain. One Good Mama Bone explores the strengths and limitations of parental love, the healing power of the human-animal bond, and the ethical dilemmas of raising animals for food.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Unexpected characters populate this compelling tale about Mama Red, a mama cow, whose maternal instincts toward her own calf influence a human, Sarah Creamer, to become a better mother to her son. Poignant and enjoyable!"—Steph Crowe, Page & Palette

“McClain’s first novel resists predictability and instead weaves together questions about poverty, class, violence, and religion. . . . A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.”—Kirkus Reviews

“First-time novelist McClain draws on her family’s history in the rural South to create a cast of deeply relatable characters, both human and animal, who readers will find themselves rooting for until the very last page.”—Booklist (starred review)

"Emotional bonds between humans and animals have long been written about, but never has the bond between a woman and a mother cow been placed front and center. It’s about time. The world is ready for this true portrait of a mother cow’s compassion and the lessons she has to teach us all. This is an important story whose time has come."— Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary

"Bren McClain’s brilliant and ravishingly moving novel speaks eloquently for all of us who find our deepest humanity intimately connected with all the sentient creatures around us. Humane and universal, One Good Mama Bone is an instant classic.”—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning short-story collection, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“One Good Mama Bone is everything that Bren [McClain] is—smart, confident, unflinchingly honest, witty, wise, and possessing a reassuring wisdom and kindness that carries the reader from the story’s heartbreaking beginnings to a morally and emotionally satisfying conclusion. McClain’s debut novel is a tour de force! . . . This is a novel that just might break your heart, and it might well heal it too, but with both acts Bren McClain will remind you of why each of us is entrusted with a heart in the first place.”—Mary Alice Monroe, from the foreword

"Bren McClain writes of elemental things with grace, wisdom, and power. One Good Mama Bone speaks with a quiet authority that comes through on every page."—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Kirkus Reviews
2016-12-07
A single mother and her son raise a steer with hopes of winning a cash prize in the local 4-H competition. Complicated relationships layer this story, set in the early 1950s in South Carolina. Sarah Creamer unexpectedly becomes a mother to the baby who resulted from her best friend's affair with her husband after her friend commits suicide following the delivery. Nearly seven years later, Sarah's husband drinks himself to death, leaving her a single mother solely responsible for paying the family's debts. Desperate to provide her son, Emerson Bridge, with food, Sarah makes a dress to sell to the wealthy Mildred Dobbins, wife of the cattleman and landowner Luther Dobbins. After Sarah reads about a steer winning $680 in a competition, she buys a calf from Luther in hopes that Emerson Bridge will win the championship the next year to raise their family out of poverty—and thinking that the calf would be a friend for her son. The young steer, Lucky, is soon joined in the Creamers' yard by his mother, who broke through the Dobbins' fences to find her calf. As Sarah struggles with how to be a good mother to Emerson Bridge, she looks to the mother cow, whom she names Mama Red, for guidance and also forms an unlikely friendship with Mildred Dobbins. The two families become further entangled since the Dobbins' son, LC, is also raising a steer for the 4-H competition. Emerson Bridge and LC become friends and the stakes become even higher as Luther, who desperately wants his family to win the contest, turns increasingly violent and erratic. Through all of these connections, McClain's first novel resists predictability and instead weaves together questions about poverty, class, violence, and religion as these two families question what parent-child relationships should be. The short, clipped sentences can make the story difficult to follow at times, but the language does help establish Sarah more fully as a character. Sarah's relationship with Mama Red sometimes obscures the development of other relationships, such as the one between Sarah and her landlord, and the ending perhaps reaches a bit too much toward a closure that the characters themselves won't find. A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781611177466
Publisher:
University of South Carolina Press
Publication date:
02/14/2017
Series:
Story River Books
Pages:
280
Sales rank:
505,119
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

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Meet the Author


Bren McClain was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, on a beef cattle and grain farm. She has a degree in English from Furman University; is an experienced media relations, radio, and television news professional; and currently works as a communications confidence coach. She is a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project and the recipient of the 2005 Fiction Fellowship by the South Carolina Arts Commission. An excerpt from One Good Mama Bone was named a 2012 finalist for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for a Novel-in-Progress. This is McClain’s first novel.

New York Times best-selling author Mary Alice Monroe is the author of The Beach House, Skyward, Sweetgrass, Swimming Lessons, Time Is a River, Last Light over Carolina, The Butterfly's Daughter, and other books.

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