July 1, 2009

The Mine and the Well, by Gin Phillips

This is Gin Phillips first novel, and if this book is any indication of how well written her future novels will be, I most certainly look forward to them.

"After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing that splash."

Thus begins the The Mine and the Well, a novel set in the small Alabama mining town of Carbon Hills during the Depression. It follows the lives of the Moore family...nine-year-old Tess, her older sister Virgie, her younger brother Jack, and their parents, Albert and Leta...and what happens to them after Tess witnesses a woman tossing a baby into their well.

To the sisters, it's a mystery that needs to be solved. They go about town (population about 3,000) looking for a woman they consider crazy enough to throw her own child in a well. As they see life around them, from the woman who feeds her 10 children with scraps of food, to the children that have to work their parents cotton fields, they begin to see how good they have it in life. For the first time, they begin to feel compassion towards their fellow townspeople, and even begin to understand what would drive a woman to do such a thing.

To their parents, it's just another reminder of how rough life is sometimes in their small town. Albert works in the mines in order to provide for his family, and he's troubled by what is happening in their town around them. Men are losing their jobs, families are going without food, and the black miners he works with are being discriminated against. Leta does what she can with the little food they have, even if it means taking from her own plate, or pretending to have eaten earlier.

The book is narrated by each character, though it is Tess that you learn the most about. However, even though she is the "main character", her voice does not stand out from any of the others. They are all well-developed, and by the end you feel as though you were standing there beside them as they talked and shared their views of the world with you.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was sad for it to end. Ms. Philips did a fantastic job of bringing her characters, and Carbon Hills, to life with her gentle and poignant writing. Her writing is simple, yet filled with depth and meaning. Consider this short passage, one of my favorite in the book:

"We sank into the mattress, with the weight of two bodies and all the tiredness and the work and the bills to be paid. Usually he'd squeeze my leg and I'd nuzzle his neck and we'd fall into sleep without saying a word. All the words and the moving and all the thinking were used up by dark."

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good southern novel.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, this sounds fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That is a first line that oughta grab a reader! Now added to my TBR list.

    ReplyDelete

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