"Saterstrom writes with a poet's economy and eye for visceral detail, collapsing into a mere 140 pages a four-generation history of a Southern family bedeviled by alcoholism, poverty, racism, violence, and mental illness. Her spareness is a mercy. The story she tells is brutal, almost impossible to take; at the same time, her exquisite, cut-to-the-quick language makes this book impossible to put down." The Huffington Post, "11 Underappreciated Literary Masterpieces"
Beautiful and violent, spare and ominous, this wholly original novel explodes mythologies of southern femininity.
From the Publisher
Publishers WeeklySaterstrom's harrowing but gorgeous debut chronicles four generations of women in a tragically haunted Mississippi family. Divided into five sections and including old photographs and excerpts from the Confederate Ball Program Guide 1938, the book reveals decades of poverty, abuse and alcoholism. In the fractured first section, Saterstrom introduces Abella and her daughter, Azalea, in staccato, spare sentences; the moments described feel crucial but ransacked, since Saterstrom leaves large spaces between words that may have swallowed integral bits of information. Abella, "a woman [who] enjoyed socializing and thinking about restoration projects," is married to the abusive, alcoholic policeman Micajah. His beatings and likely sexual abuse (never fully revealed but strongly suggested) take their toll on their daughter, Azalea; she turns to the bottle and marries Willie, a lawyer distressingly like her father who later becomes a district judge. In section two, succinctly titled passages like "Vitamins," "Bracelets" and "Hitchhiker" convey in taut, unaffected language the horror Willie and Azalea's four daughters witness throughout their childhood. The girls narrowly survive their violent upbringing and have children themselves. Aza, who repeatedly attempted suicide as a child, begets the unnamed narrator of section four whose spooked but sensitive voice steers the book through some of its richest, most devastating passages. Brutal but also deeply lyrical, Saterstrom's beautiful novel paints a portrait of a family wracked by its own dysfunction and held fast by a place that has never fully recovered since the day the Civil War began-the day known, as the book tellingly reminds us, as "Ruination Day." (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library JournalSaterstrom's remarkably daring debut is not so much a novel as a catalog of events that eventually gives shape to four generations of Mississippi women in the post-Confederate South. In Part 1, we meet Abella, who marries Micajah, an abusive alcoholic. Their emotionally scarred daughter, Azalea, grows up to marry a drinker and has four children of her own Faryn, Aza, Trulie, and Ginger whose horrifying childhoods are recounted in Part 2. Of them, Aza's daughter, Penelope, dominates, relating the pain of her mother's substance abuse and suicide attempts as well as her own vexatious childhood. Imbued with madness, violence, and strong familial connections, Saterstrom's characters recall those of almost any Southern novel following Faulkner; the family's slide into alcoholism, poverty, and despair embodies the overall decay of the region. However, Saterstrom takes a fresh approach to the South's most beloved genre, framing the action with historical black-and-white photos and employing quotes from The Confederate Ball Program Guide (circa 1938) and other unidentified sources. More tellingly, she moves the plot forward through terse, aphoristic paragraphs sometimes just one to a page that give her novel the feel of a fable. Both touching and stylistically imaginative, this work is highly recommended. Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
- Coffee House Press
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