A Southern Familyby Gail Godwin
In A Southern
The novels of Gail Godwin are contemporary classics -- evocative, powerfully affecting, beautifully crafted fiction alive with endearing, unforgettable characters. Her critically acclaimed work has placed her among the ranks of Eudora Welty, Pat Conroy, and Carson McCullers, firmly establishing Godwin as a Southern literary novelist for the ages.
In A Southern Famiy, the celebrated author of A Mother and Two Daughters, The Finishing School, and Father Melancholy's Daughter once again explores the shattering dynamics of parents' relationships with their children and themselves. It is the story of the Quick family and the reunion that leads to tragedy -- a masterful tale of anger and pain, of love and hatred, and of the understanding that ultimately heals.
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- 5.36(w) x 8.04(h) x 1.40(d)
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I: Old Friendships
Going to see Clare's family on the isolated hilltop where Ralph Quick had built his domestic fortress was an ordeal for Julia. She went no more than she could help, and only on those occasions, once or twice a year, when her oldest friend was in residence. Clare, who now lived in New York, always flew down to Mountain City, was met by her mother and stepfather and half brothers at the airport, and was borne away to Quick's Hill in one of their numerous cars. Once there, Clare had explained to Julia, she lost all capacity for independent mobility. She relied on Lily or Ralph or one of the boys to take her anywhere she needed to go. Several times Ralph Quick had offered Clare the keys to a car, but when the hour came to get in it by herself and go where she was supposed to go, something was always wrong: the gearshift was mysteriously locked, or the heater was jammed on High, or the tank was empty and none of the men was at home to unlock the gas pump down by the dogs' kennels. When Julia had asked Clare why she didn't just rent herself a car, she could surely afford it, Clare had laughed brusquely and said, "You know yourself, Julia, that it wouldn't work. It would be interpreted by them as my making a kind of statement, and Ralph would resent it and take it out on Lily, and then my visit would be spoiled for her, and where would the triumph be in that?"
That was the kind of atmosphere prevailing up there: layer upon layer of debilitating resentments and intrigues that over the years had sapped the family members of their individual strengths, andyet bathed them, as a unit, in a certain sinister charm. Clare, the only one who could be said to have "escaped," was still under the family spell. When she came back, she willingly reentered the noxious enclosure and let herself be sucked back into the old games. Julia had once been under the spell, but that was years ago when she was fourteen and had a crush on the blooming, dynamic, unconventional Lily and was attracted to the sexy, penniless younger man Lily had shocked Julia's' parents by marrying. But Lily Quick in her present incarnation saddened Julia, and she had become wary of Ralph Quick's insinuating manner. As for Clare's two half brothers, Julia really knew only the elder, Theo. She had danced him around when he was an infant, pretending he was hers by the boy she had then loved. And a decade ago, when Julia had made her decision to return home and take the job at North State College, she had taught Theo briefly in her Western Civ section, but he had angered her, and wounded her pride, by dropping the course.
The only vital connection Julia had to the Quicks now was Clare who had kept her own father's name, Campion. The two of them had been friends since a day in second grade at St. Clothilde's, when Julia had come upon Clare in near-hysteria over her leggings; they had been all tangled up and the school bus was about to leave. Clare sat on the floor of the cloakroom, a passionate, panicked heap of despair, the wrong foot jammed into the wrong leg. What had both annoyed and enamored Julia' was the other child's single-minded rapt air of doom: in her mind, the school bus had departed without her; she was experiencing in her imagination whatever consequences went with her having missed it. Feeling powerful and generous, Julia had knelt down and pulled off the leggings and reasoned Clare out of her fantasy of defeat. Running, the two girls had made the bus which, Julia realized later, would surely have waited for them anyway. Aboard the bus, Mother von Blucher, in an ill temper, had helped Clare with the leggings. But Mother von Blücher was famous for her ill temper. "Boy, she really hates us!" the little girls would exclaim, fascinated by her perpetual wrath. Now, as an adult, Julia realized that the Prussian nun's anger had been more complicated: probably it had a lot to do with the fact that the war had just ended and the Germans had lost and Leipzig, the city of her girlhood, had been given away by our president to the Russians.
The self-centeredness of childhood and beyond. How long it took to learn that others saw the world from the center of themselves just as thoroughly as you saw it from yours. If the Prussian nun had still been alive, Julia would have gone out to the convent and spent the afternoon talking with her about Leipzig. "I'm a professor of history now, Mother" (only they were all called "Sister" since Vatican II had revised so many things for the Catholics) and I can better comprehend the irreplaceable loss of certain continuities. That the city where Luther argued and Goethe studied and Bach and Mendelssohn wrote music...not to mention the personal achievements of your own family...should have come to such an end, well, I would have been ill-tempered too; perhaps even with God. Were you descended by any chance from the General Blücher who defeated Napoleon's forces at the Battle of Leipzig? Was that where your family got its "von"? I would have asked you these things years ago, except I didn't know about General Blücher, and I probably didn't believe, in those days, that nuns had histories. Besides, I was far too busy thinking about myself!"
Clare, at forty-two, still had her rapt air of doom. Despite all the good things that had happened to her, she continued to rely on Julia to reason her out of her expectations of failure and convince her of her own worth.
A Southern Family. Copyright © by Gail Godwin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Gail Godwin is the author of ten novels, three of which were nominated for National Book Awards. A Southern Family and Father Melancholy's Daughter were both NYT bestsellers and Main Selections of the Book of the Month Club. She has been translated into 12 languages. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and letters. She holds a doctorate in Modern Letters from the University of Iowa and has taught in the Iowa writers Workshop, Vassar and Columbia. A native of Asheville, N.C., she now lives in Woodstock, N.Y.
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