The Well and the Mine

The Well and the Mine

by Gin Phillips


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The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

A novel of warmth and true feeling, The Well and the Mine explores the value of community, charity, family, and hope that we can give each other during a time of hardship. Look out for Phillips's new novel, Fierce Kingdom

In a small Alabama coal-mining town during the summer of 1931, nine-year-old Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches a woman toss a baby into her family’s well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her older sister Virgie to look beyond their own door and learn the value of kindness and lending a helping hand. As Tess and Virgie try to solve the mystery of the well, an accident puts their seven-year-old brother’s life in danger, forcing the Moore family to come to a new understanding of the power of love and compassion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594484490
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/08/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 467,481
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Gin Phillips lives in Birmingham, Alabama. The Well and the Mine is her first novel.

Reading Group Guide

In 1931, the United States has been plunged into the Great Depression for two years, but poverty and privation are already old acquaintances to residents of Carbon Hill, Alabama. Most local families have had too many mouths to feed for as long as they can remember, but when an unknown woman drops a baby into the Moore family well—with only nine-year-old Tess as a witness—the town is stopped in its tracks by the crime.

The Moores are better off than most. Along with most of the Carbon Hill men, Albert Moore labors in the mines, but he also owns and works a small patch of farmland which allows him to feed his wife, Leta, and his children, Virgie, Tess, and Jack, during the lean times. The family is also known and respected for being quick to help out with a bit of food or a loan—even as the requests become increasingly frequent—which makes the choice of their well even more puzzling.

No one believes Tess, at first, until a baby blanket pulled up in the bucket confirms her story. In no time, the town’s gossip-mongers descend upon their household. Unfortunately, the local police are more interested in harassing the town’s black population than finding the Caucasian baby’s mother. Tess becomes plagued by nightmares and feels certain that the dead infant boy is reaching out and asking her to “figure out who he was. Find who threw him in and give him some peace” (p. 50).

Albert and Leta are too busy keeping the house and farm together to soothe Tess’s fanciful imagination, so her fourteen-year-old sister, Virgie, comes up with a plan to track down the Well Woman—as she comes to be called. The two make a list of all the women they know who delivered babies in the last six months and begin insinuating themselves into their suspects’ lives. Their investigation doesn’t yield an immediate answer but it opens the sisters’ eyes to the complications of life beyond their own small household.

Gin Philips’ award-winning debut novel transports readers to a bygone time and place and introduces a cast of characters that comes vividly alive in all their humor, grace, and humanity. Reminiscent of the writings of Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, with the emotional resonance of Sue Monk Kidd and Fannie Flagg, The Well and the Mine is rooted in the very best of southern writing but claims a territory all its own.


Gin Phillips lives in Birmingham, Alabama; The Well and the Mine is her first novel.

  • Virgie recollects, “Papa said it was an abomination what that woman did. That God would judge her” (p. 25). However, she refrains from judging and imagines the circumstances that might have driven the Well Woman to the deed. Where does Virgie’s compassion stem from?
  • Why doesn’t Sheriff Taylor inform the Moores that the baby was already dead as soon as he receives the inquest results?
  • If the woman and the baby had been black, do you feel that the investigation would have proceeded differently?
  • When Virgie and Tess check on Lola Lowe’s new baby, Lola immediately knows why they are there, and their schoolmate Ellen is clearly embarrassed to have them see her home. Did their attempts to solve the mystery do more harm than good? How pure were their motives?
  • After the stock market crash, Jesse Bridgeman, the banker, kills himself. Why do you think a person who—even after losing most of his money—still had more than most of the townspeople would commit suicide?
  • “Beans and onion. Squash and tomato. It was the different tastes together, the ones that it didn’t make no sense at all to stick on the same fork, that your tongue really remembered” (p. 146). Are there any other examples in the novel when Phillips uses food as a metaphor? What do these metaphors tell us about the world she creates?
  • Would Tess and Jack have learned the lesson their father hoped to impart by taking them to pick cotton if they hadn’t encountered and become friends with the Talbert children?
  • Why doesn’t Albert sue the brick company after their truck driver hits Jack? Such a decision would be unfathomable today. What do you think has changed about our society? Is the change for better or worse?
  • What do you think about Jonah’s explanation of why he won’t have dinner at the Moores? Would you, like Albert, have capitulated? How did Jack’s accident affect Albert’s position?
  • Jonah and Albert feel they can never be real friends because of their race. Have you ever had to disavow or stifle a friendship because of external social pressures?
  • Albert chooses to protect his family over fully expressing his friendship for Jonah. Do you think he made the right choice? What other choices do the characters in the book make that can be read as both good and bad?
  • Did Virgie and Tess do the right thing in keeping the Well Woman’s identity a secret? How might their lives have turned out differently if she hadn’t chosen their well?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Well and the Mine 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 79 reviews.
    TyBDo More than 1 year ago
    I thought that this was an OK book. Not really that great. The ending was pretty lame, and the book kept straying off-topic. Also, the switching from character to character got a little confusing from time to time.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Gin Phillips deserves every ounce of attention she receives for The Well and the Mine. This is a breathtaking first novel. Phillips paces the story in perfect rhythm with the lives of these deceivingly simple characters. Her research into the everyday details of 1931 rural Alabama is matched only by her deft craftsmanship and pitch-perfect voices. The plot here (which is very compelling) moves at the pace of the river, slowly unraveling each member of this vividly rendered family into fully realized human beings, wrought with their own loves and hopes and worries and fears. We face heightened racism, poverty, and suspicion in Carbon Hill, Alabama, but we also witness the irresistible goodness of a devoted family holding each day to a standard long lost in modern culture. Late in the novel, the youngest child in the Moore family says, â¿¿Iâ¿¿d listened to Pop good enough to make his story mine.â¿ Phillips has listened well, very well, and while her story navigates a gulf of southern traditions, this gorgeously complicated novel is entirely her own.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Most amazing book Ive ever read! Ive probably read this around 15 times now, honestly. Favorite book growing up, too. The charecters are so REALISTIC AND LURING. WORD OF ADVICE: GET THE BOOK.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    It's no wonder this book is getting huge buzz--it's a fantastic read that would appeal to anyone who loves Southern literature from the work of Fannie Flagg to Flannery O'Connor's from Anne Rivers Siddon's books to William Faulkner novels. Really, this book appeals to anyone who loves a good story, rendered well. Phillips writing is somehow simultaneously fluid and hard-edged, and she knows her characters well enough to make their lives feel real to readers. This is one of the best books I've read in 2008. Highly recommended.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A gritty true to life account of life at that time period in a coal town.
    downacountryroad More than 1 year ago
    I don't know why anyone wouldn't give this book a 5-star rating! The writing is fascinating and I love it that she wrote it in different perspectives of each character involved, especially the little girls persepective. Phillips carefully thought out this novel. The depiction of life during the depression years and in a mining town in the south is unique. When you think of miners, you think of West Virginia, so this book gives a unique look at values and subjects uncomfortable to talk about, that were/are prevalent in the south, not to mention how it was to be poor in the south. Living near this area in the north half of Alabama, has given me insight on the culture as it was back then, and how it translates to now. Don't let me forget to mention the mystery involved-- it keeps you reading. It's nearly like finding out in the end what happens in To Kill a Mockingbird.--yes it's that good.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Wonderful look at the Southern poor during the depression. Family, love, mystery and a very well written, descriptive narrative.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    In the novel, The Well and the Mine, author Gin Phillips explores the value of community, family, hope and determination during times of hardships. The setting of Phillips’s first novel takes place in a small coal mining town of Alabama in the year of 1931. Written in third person omniscient, Phillips allows readers to see the thoughts, emotions, hopes and dreams of each member of the Moore family. In using this style of writing, Phillips is able to bring her characters to life in a manner that makes each person unique and part of our lives in no time at all. Parents, Albert and Leta are hard working people who have faced many trials and tribulations as they struggle to make ends meet in times of shortage. Wanting nothing but a better life for their three young children, Virgie who is fifteen, Tess age nine, and young Jack who is only seven, the Moore’s are a prime example of how the human race can provide compassion to those they love. The novel begins with Tess witnessing a woman toss a baby into their family well and run away. The town is soon consumed with this horrific crime, but with no leads as to who it was, Tess and Virgie begin conducting their own investigation which leads to a surprising turn of events. Along the way the characters all face internal and external problems of their own as the children begin to grow up and explore who they really are and what they want to do in life. Readers will suffer along with Virgie as she begins to mature and faces the problems of love. Readers will cheer Tess on as she takes a stand for what she believes in and stays true to her values. Readers will hold their breath when Jack is nearly killed by a hit and run truck while walking to a baseball park. Most of all, readers will encourage Albert and Leta as they face economic hardships—performing back breaking work at the coal mines, striving to provide a stable home and positive life lessons to their children. The setting of The Well and the Mine also provides insight into the world of racism that existed during 1931 in the Deep South and how it affected people of all ages, races, and class systems. We also see firsthand how different levels of poverty were present despite skin color and sex. Life was not easy for anyone; no member of the community was left untouched by poverty’s hand. Gin Phillips’s attention to detail brings her novel to life. Readers will remember the characters long after they have finished and closed the book. Her style of writing transports you into the plot itself and the theme of love and family is evident on every page. Phillips’s writing technique focuses on symbolism and metaphors that will leave the reader thinking and questioning aspects of their own life.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Very well written. Sentences so beautiful, it could move you to tears.
    Nitro23 More than 1 year ago
    My bookclub picked this book. It sounded interesting, but it was pretty boring. I did not like how the author split up the characters and the ending was very dissapointing! There was no ending... I was not pleased! She also kept going back and forth to the future... she should have kept everything in order.
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