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Under Magnolia : A Southern Memoir
by Frances Mayes


Overview -

A lyrical and evocative memoir from Frances Mayes, the Bard of Tuscany, about coming of age in the Deep South and the region s powerful influence on her life.

The author of three beloved books about her life in Italy, including "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Every Day in Tuscany," Frances Mayes revisits the turning points that defined her early years in Fitzgerald, Georgia.  Read more...


 
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Overview

A lyrical and evocative memoir from Frances Mayes, the Bard of Tuscany, about coming of age in the Deep South and the region s powerful influence on her life.

The author of three beloved books about her life in Italy, including "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Every Day in Tuscany," Frances Mayes revisits the turning points that defined her early years in Fitzgerald, Georgia. With her signature style and grace, Mayes explores the power of landscape, the idea of home, and the lasting force of a chaotic and loving family.
From her years as a spirited, secretive child, through her university studies a period of exquisite freedom that imbued her with a profound appreciation of friendship and a love of travel to her escape to a new life in California, Mayes exuberantly recreates the intense relationships of her past, recounting the bitter and sweet stories of her complicated family: her beautiful yet fragile mother, Frankye; her unpredictable father, Garbert; Daddy Jack, whose life Garbert saved; grandmother Mother Mayes; and the family maid, Frances s confidant Willie Bell.
"Under Magnolia" is a searingly honest, humorous, and moving ode to family and place, and a thoughtful meditation on the ways they define us, or cause us to define ourselves. With acute sensory language, Mayes relishes the sweetness of the South, the smells and tastes at her family table, the fragrance of her hometown trees, and writes an unforgettable story of a girl whose perspicacity and dawning self-knowledge lead her out of the South and into the rest of the world, and then to a profound return home."

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307885913
  • ISBN-10: 0307885917
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
  • Publish Date: April 2014
  • Page Count: 336

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-04-14
  • Reviewer: Staff

Set in the author's "one-mile-square" hometown of Fitzgerald in the backwoods of Georgia, Mayes's (Every Day in Tuscany) latest memoir depicts a childhood of rich meals and drunk, impatient parents—her adoring and violent father and her restless alcoholic mother. Mayes endures their "long night sieges," distracting herself with books and seeking comfort from Willie Bell, the family cook. The portrayal of Willie Bell is refreshingly unromantic, written with candor and respect as Mayes refers to her as an ally, adding "it was not a cozy, member-of-the-family thing she and I simply knew we were in it together." When Mayes refers to fleeing the South, her reasoning is more tied to ambition than victimhood. Her accounts of high school and college—first at Randolph-Macon, then at University of Florida—are teeming with tales of friendships and eager suitors. Though the prose is dazzling throughout, Mayes's best stories are the early ones. In an especially moving scene, she sits outside in a car while her father dies in the house. Her uncle urges her to come inside, saying "Sugar, you better go in and say good-bye." Readers will not tire of Mayes' splendid imagery. Agent: Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown. (Apr.)   The White House: It's Historic Furnishings and First Families Betty C. Monkman Abbeville, $49.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7892-1179-8 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, America's home address, is the subject of this comprehensive and celebratory tome covering more than 200 years of presidential and cultural history told through lavish full-color photography. With an informed eye and a scholarly devotion, Monkman, the White House curator for more than three decades, has assembled an impressive catalog of the art, furniture, china, silver, and other decor of all but one of the First Families that have resided there. (George Washington never slept there.) This second edition updates readers with previously unpublished pictures from the most recent Presidents' tenure including the book's Red Room as it looks today and also the current Oval office where you can see Barack Obama's Resolute desk, the same one used by Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and G.W. Bush. A rare stereographic portrait of a somber White House draped in mourning cloth from Washington upholsterers on the occasion of President Lincoln's death in April, 1865 is also in the new edition. Along with comprehensive coverage of the public rooms, there's an occasional peak at the private corners. Photos of the Lincoln bedroom, for example, provides a close-up of the elaborate rosewood headboard and gilded canopy of the Lincoln bed. Though Lincoln never slept there, he used the room as an upstairs office; Mrs. Lincoln bought the bed in 1861 for the presidential guest room. Lovers of history or the decorative arts, in particular, will find this book abundantly satisfying, but anyone with a national pride will appreciate and admire their "Family" heirlooms. (Apr.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A chaotic Southern childhood

BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, April 2014

Frances Mayes’ lyrical memoir of growing up Southern was a long time coming. Worried about upsetting her family, she stopped and started Under Magnolia many times over: “Anytime I felt the impulse to start my Southern opus again, I instead headed for a movie or a new Thai restaurant,” she writes. “I’d go jogging or read a novel until the impulse faded.”

Thank goodness she finally gave in to her impulses to dare alla luce, as the Tuscans say, to give the book to the light. This memoir from the author of Under the Tuscan Sun is a lovely, soul-baring look back at growing up in Fitzgerald, Georgia, the youngest of three daughters. Her family was chaotic, to say the least. Her parents were at war with each other from the first drink of the day, desperately unhappy but unable to make changes.

“I said many things to myself by the age of seven,” Mayes writes. “If I ever get out of here, I will never select unhappiness. When the plate of unhappiness is passed around and more and more is offered, I’ll say no thank you, no. But they wanted seconds, thirds.”

Much younger than her sisters, Mayes bore the brunt of her parents’ dysfunction. Her saving graces were books and Willie Bell, the woman who had been working for the family since before Mayes was born. Less confidant and more co-conspirator, Willie Bell took care of Mayes in her own brusque way: feeding her, advising her to go play outside to escape the toxic house.

Mayes also recalls her cloistered years at Randolph-Macon, the women’s college in Virginia where she cultivated some of her deepest friendships and her deep love of writing. (“We began to forget we were supposed to please men,” she writes. “There weren’t any.”).

Under Magnolia is a gorgeous, dreamy remembrance of hot Southern afternoons, mothers in red lipstick and Shalimar, Elvis turned up loud to cover up the family troubles that ran deep. An unflinching love song to her simultaneously rich and troubled childhood, it is Mayes’ most generous work yet.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Frances Mayes for Under Magnolia.

 
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