Saturday, November 08, 2014

NaBloPoMo day 8: Tale of two books, part 2

Went to an excellent event on Thursday night at Waterstones Cambridge, having seen an ad on Twitter; Kate Mayfield, talking partly about her new book The undertaker's daughter


and partly about the Gothic tradition in Southern literature.  (And there was bourbon, and cheese biscuits made by the author from a recipe in Southern Living, and peach cobbler and pecan pie made by one of Waterstones's staff...)

The undertaker's daughter is an autobiographical memoir of childhood about growing up in a funeral home in Kentucky; Kate read a couple of extracts.  One, about a classmate who drowned in a swimming pool, had powerful resonances the characters in Wendy Cope's Tich Miller and Charles Causley's Timothy Winters; the other looked at fear, and the absence of fear, in the face of death.

Kate's talk also took in the wider aspects of Southern Gothic; the idea that there's a constant feeling of being haunted, and some of the causes: religious hysteria, family secrets, violence; the sundrenched wide skies but the feeling of confinement into small towns with small-town expectations and the further confinement into the domestic environment. She also touched on the slave past - in the small town she talks about, there was a lynching of four innocent black men in 1908 - and the weight of history.  It was a really interesting talk, and there were some good questions.  The book isn't out in the US yet and Kate has genuine worries about taking a book tour into the South because of the themes discussed and how people may react.  I haven't started the book yet but am really looking forward to reading it, as someone who can't decide whether To kill a mocking-bird or gods in Alabama is her favourite novel.

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