I can't find fault with Hattie Shepherd. Giving birth to your first children at the age of 19 in a new city can be overwhelming. To find yourself giving birth years later at the age of 46 is surprising. Then to turn around at 74 and find yourself mothering your grandchildren, is not an easy road. But how do you explain that to your children who only see you as cold and uncaring?
"Somebody always wants something from me," she said in a near whisper. "They're eating me alive."
As you read, you'll be caught up in the lives of Lloyd, the musician; Six, the wonder boy preacher; the high strung and insecure Alice, who pretends her brother Billups needs her when, in reality, she's the one that desperately needs him; Bell, who seeks revenge against Hattie when all she really wants is to know the secret joy her mother found once upon a time; and countless others. Mathis dedicates chapters to the various offspring, but their interactions as children aren't explored as much as they are as adults. She wants you to see who they've become as a result of living in the house.
I love the set up of the book. It feels like a compilation of short stories that are loosely tied together, with the only common thread being that Hattie and August have given birth to them. With the exception of Alice and Billups, we see very little interaction among the siblings once they leave home. It's as if Hattie's lack of love spread to them and there's nothing that bonds any of them together.
Part of the great migration to the north, I wonder how much of Hattie's coldness is a reflection of her surroundings. While her husband, August, longs for the Georgia he remembers, minus Jim Crow, Hattie refuses to even speak its name. Still, you have to wonder if August lamenting over leaving the south is valid. Would Hattie have been different, would the children have had different lives, had they been surrounded by paper shell pecans, sweet gum trees, gigantic peaches and neighbors whose names they could recite years later?
Published: December 2012
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.
Theme: A Song for Mama by Boyz II Men