The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change

Overview

Are we responsible for, and to, those forces that have formed us?our families, friends, and communities? Where do we leave off and others begin? In The Tribal Knot, Rebecca McClanahan looks for answers in the history of her family. Poring over letters, artifacts, and documents that span more than a century, she discovers a tribe of hardscrabble Midwest farmers, hunters, trappers, and laborers struggling to hold tight to the ties that bind them, through poverty, war, political upheavals, illness and accident, ...

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The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change

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Overview

Are we responsible for, and to, those forces that have formed us—our families, friends, and communities? Where do we leave off and others begin? In The Tribal Knot, Rebecca McClanahan looks for answers in the history of her family. Poring over letters, artifacts, and documents that span more than a century, she discovers a tribe of hardscrabble Midwest farmers, hunters, trappers, and laborers struggling to hold tight to the ties that bind them, through poverty, war, political upheavals, illness and accident, filicide and suicide, economic depressions, personal crises, and global disasters. Like the practitioners of Victorian "hair art" who wove strands of family members' hair into a single design, McClanahan braids her ancestors' stories into a single intimate narrative of her search to understand herself and her place in the family's complex past.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

"Rebecca McClanahan’s multi-generational memoir artfully weaves together more than a century of family documents, oral history, and historical records. With poetic elegance, McClanahan transforms ordinary life events into meaningful life stories. The Tribal Knot is not only an engaging read, but a literary model for those who yearn to write their own family story." —Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, author of You Can Write Your Family History

Lee Martin

"Rebecca McClanahan has written a magnificent book. The Tribal Knot is a loving portrait of a family across its generations. More than a genealogical trail, this is the story of a distinctly Midwestern family who captured my heart. I fell in love with, quibbled with, and worried over these people as if they were my own. I celebrated their joys, grieved for their losses, and mourned their deaths. McClanahan does such a marvelous job of making her ancestors come alive in this loving reminder of the ties that bind." —Lee Martin, From Our House and Turning Bones

Ann Hood

"To enter Rebecca McClanahan's memoir is to truly enter her life—her history, her geography, her tribe. The blending of photographs, letters, and diary entries into McClanahan's intelligent, lyrical and thoughtful prose makes this one of the fullest reading experiences I have had in a very long time." —Ann Hood, Comfort: A Journey through Grief and The Knitting Circle

David Huddle

"Book like no other I’ve read, The Tribal Knot combines genres to become something entirely new. Memoir, novel, genealogy, biography, survivor’s testimony, study of generations of women, love story, catalogue of precious quotidian details, and portrait of Twentieth Century American life, this book takes us where we’ve all been wanting to go but haven’t until now seen how to get there. In this brilliant revitalizing of the oldest narrative we know, Rebecca McClanahan demonstrates how our lives depend on the story of our human family and why we can never get enough of it." —David Huddle, Nothing Can Make Me Do This and Blacksnake at the Family Reunion

Suzannah Lessard

"This lovely, unsentimental memoir spins the multiple strands of McClanahan's family past into a living tapestry going back into the nineteenth century Midwest. I have never seen the familial panorama captured as living knowledge in such a moving way. Tragedies lie alongside daily struggles with McClanahan's own formation becoming intuitively known to the reader as she conjures her knot. When her time rolls around we already know her well. This is an unsparing book that is pulled into true by enduring attachment." —Suzannah Lessard, author of The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Niche

"Far from a disinterested historian, she relishes her role in the family...Her joy is impossible to miss. Her curiosity about long-dead ancestors and her sympathy for the hard-working farm women are equally vivid." —Niche

From the Publisher

"This lovely, unsentimental memoir spins the multiple strands of McClanahan's family past into a living tapestry going back into the nineteenth century Midwest. I have never seen the familial panorama captured as living knowledge in such a moving way. Tragedies lie alongside daily struggles with McClanahan's own formation becoming intuitively known to the reader as she conjures her knot. When her time rolls around we already know her well. This is an unsparing book that is pulled into true by enduring attachment." —Suzannah Lessard, author of The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

"Far from a disinterested historian, she relishes her role in the family...Her joy is impossible to miss. Her curiosity about long-dead ancestors and her sympathy for the hard-working farm women are equally vivid." —Niche

"Rebecca McClanahan’s multi-generational memoir artfully weaves together more than a century of family documents, oral history, and historical records. With poetic elegance, McClanahan transforms ordinary life events into meaningful life stories. The Tribal Knot is not only an engaging read, but a literary model for those who yearn to write their own family story." —Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, author of You Can Write Your Family History

"Book like no other I’ve read, The Tribal Knot combines genres to become something entirely new. Memoir, novel, genealogy, biography, survivor’s testimony, study of generations of women, love story, catalogue of precious quotidian details, and portrait of Twentieth Century American life, this book takes us where we’ve all been wanting to go but haven’t until now seen how to get there. In this brilliant revitalizing of the oldest narrative we know, Rebecca McClanahan demonstrates how our lives depend on the story of our human family and why we can never get enough of it." —David Huddle, Nothing Can Make Me Do This and Blacksnake at the Family Reunion

"To enter Rebecca McClanahan's memoir is to truly enter her life—her history, her geography, her tribe. The blending of photographs, letters, and diary entries into McClanahan's intelligent, lyrical and thoughtful prose makes this one of the fullest reading experiences I have had in a very long time." —Ann Hood, Comfort: A Journey through Grief and The Knitting Circle

"Rebecca McClanahan has written a magnificent book. The Tribal Knot is a loving portrait of a family across its generations. More than a genealogical trail, this is the story of a distinctly Midwestern family who captured my heart. I fell in love with, quibbled with, and worried over these people as if they were my own. I celebrated their joys, grieved for their losses, and mourned their deaths. McClanahan does such a marvelous job of making her ancestors come alive in this loving reminder of the ties that bind." —Lee Martin, From Our House and Turning Bones

Kirkus Reviews
The account of a writer's quest to understand her place in the grand generational scheme of her family. Poet McClanahan (Deep Light, 2007, etc.) was the family "archive junkie [and] keeper of all things outdated and moldy." Then one day, she realized that for all her apparent knowledge, the truth about her forebears' lives was "wider and deeper" than she realized. She begins her account by delving into the pages of her Great Aunt Bessie's 1897 diary, interweaving actual fragments from it with her own imaginative reconstructions of Bessie's life in rural Indiana. McClanahan then builds on the day-to-day details of Bessie's letters, pictures and other family documents to construct a narrative that depicts a hardworking family of farmers and day laborers who helped tame the Indiana frontier and build its cities. She includes a whole cast of colorful family characters but emphasizes the relationships between and among the females, including Bessie, her sister, their mother and the author's mother; it was the women who unwittingly served as family chroniclers. Inevitably, McClanahan's research uncovers painful secrets, including her grandmother's possible participation in Women of the KKK. The narrative is complex, with the author attempting to depict several generations within a family but also place that family within larger historical contexts. Because it focuses on the minutiae of lived reality (especially in the first half of the text) and tries to do too much at once, it may leave readers—except perhaps those with a specific interest in early Hoosier social history—in a knot of frustration. Moving at times, but narratively overreaching.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253008596
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2013
  • Series: Break Away Books Series
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 982,745
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Rebecca McClanahan, the author of nine previous books, including The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings, which won the Glasgow award in nonfiction, is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Wood Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council.

Indiana University Press

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