I have been hearing about this book all over. The first line is captivating: “After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing that splash.” So I decided to read it even though it is several things I tend not to like: a Southern novel, set in the Depression, and featuring The Mines. My final opinion is, The Well and the Mine is quite good for a Southern Depression Mines novel, which – it confirmed once more for me – is just not the best kind of book for me.
Nine-year-old Tess is outside daydreaming near her family’s well, when she sees a woman throw a baby into the well. She struggles with this memory, trying to work out who the woman could have been, with the help of her older sister Virgie. Her father and mother are meanwhile doing their best in a town beset with the financial and racial problems of the Great Depression.
I liked it that the baby-in-well plotline provided a framework for the book without being the central concern of all the characters all the time. In the midst of the Great Depression, Tess’s parents have other things to worry about than someone else’s now-over difficulties with a now-dead baby. The baby in the well frames the story, in terms of plot as well as theme. The Well and the Mine is about people coping with impossible situations to the best of their abilities. Tess’s family, the Moores, are Good People, and most of the characters in the book are – in varying degrees – Good People. People who try, people who help each other. I liked all this.
(I keep writing The Gin and the Mine and The Well and the Gin. Dammit.)
The story is told from the points of view of Tess and Virgie, and their parents Leta and Albert. The younger brother, Jack, also gets to narrate sections of the story, but he speaks as an adult looking back on what happened. This could easily have had the effect of yanking the reader out of the story, but instead it just gave perspective to the whole thing, a sense that their present difficulties would pass (or not pass). The multiple perspectives thing was interesting insofar as I like knowing what’s occupying each of the characters, but their voices are not distinct, and that made it not work so well for me.
As I say – mainly it was good. I just don’t like this kind of book. Is there a genre or subject matter that puts you off a book?
Other reviews: Paperback Reader, Books and Cooks, Educating Petunia, Thoughts of Joy, Leafing Through Life, Semicolon, Five Borough Book Review, The B Files, and possibly others, so let me know if I missed yours!