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Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

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A lyrical and evocative memoir from Frances Mayes, the Bard of Tuscany, about coming of age in the Deep South and the regions 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 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.


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A lyrical and evocative memoir from Frances Mayes, the Bard of Tuscany, about coming of age in the Deep South and the regions 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 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.

30 review for Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mari Anne

    I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't even get through the preface. I skipped to the first chapter, where it didn't get much better. This felt like stream of consciousness writing and wasn't really coherent. I kept having to re-read sentences and even then most didn't make much sense. Sadly one I didn't enjoy and couldn't really get into.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chris Inman

    This is one of those rare books that I found myself unable to put down once I began reading. I read the entire book in less than a day. Ms. Mayes did jump around quite a bit and I did get confused a couple of times, however that endeared me to this particular work, because that is perhaps her intention. This book is based upon her memories of a childhood in the south, and that is how memories come back to us, they jump from time to time, she even explained this. One of my favorite lines in the This is one of those rare books that I found myself unable to put down once I began reading. I read the entire book in less than a day. Ms. Mayes did jump around quite a bit and I did get confused a couple of times, however that endeared me to this particular work, because that is perhaps her intention. This book is based upon her memories of a childhood in the south, and that is how memories come back to us, they jump from time to time, she even explained this. One of my favorite lines in the book, that rang most true for me was, "What is stranger than memory, that selects a certain day to remain vivid, when thousands of others are totally lost?" This is true on so many levels. I also think anybody who grew up in the south can relate to this book, I most certainly, can. One of the things that most stood out and made me feel particularly protective and even heart broken for young Frances was when she said, it was a surprise when she noticed all her friends came from happy homes, she hadn't known that was possible. This book I find a true testimony to the talent of Ms. Mayes, she overcame an upbringing from a difficult, alcoholic home to be a huge success and an asset to the world of literature. I highly recommend this novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    This is one of the better memoirs I've read in quite some time. I grabbed this ARC when it came in because I had read "Under the Tuscan Sun" many years ago and remembered how much I enjoyed it. I was not expecting this one to be so brilliantly remembered and so lyrically written. Frances Mayes was born in 1940 and grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Her two sisters were much older than she, so she was essentially raised as an only child in a town of 1 square mile, where her father managed the local This is one of the better memoirs I've read in quite some time. I grabbed this ARC when it came in because I had read "Under the Tuscan Sun" many years ago and remembered how much I enjoyed it. I was not expecting this one to be so brilliantly remembered and so lyrically written. Frances Mayes was born in 1940 and grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Her two sisters were much older than she, so she was essentially raised as an only child in a town of 1 square mile, where her father managed the local textile mill. They were not extremely wealthy, but had the requisite black maid, beach vacations in Florida, entertained lavishly, and lacked for nothing. Her descriptions of playing in the woods, in the barn, on the beach as a young child essentially unsupervised, since helicopter parenting had not been invented yet, filled me with nostalgia for the type of childhood that doesn't seem possible any longer. But........she also tells us of her parent's alcoholism, the horrible fights lasting til dawn, her grandfather's cruel bullying and racism, her father's death from cancer when she was 13, and her mother's descent into total helplessness. Yet these chapters are also very beautifully written, filled with her longing to escape. And she did escape, first into books, then into physical distance as she went off to college. This memoir begins with her visit to Oxford, Mississippi to give a reading and book-signing at the famous Square Books. After long years in California and Italy, it triggers a longing to come home to the south. It ends with her descriptions of her present life in Hillsborough, NC, also home to many writers and artists, among them her neighbor, Alan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Michael Malone and others who seem to have formed an artists colony in this quaint little town next door to Durham and Chapel Hill. She describes so perfectly how southerners are steeped in "something" (the heat, the food, the landscape?) that won't allow them to escape completely, even when the desire to get out is so strong for some. It's always there, waiting for us, ready to welcome us home.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    A charming and thoughtful meditation of her youth growing up in Fitzgerald, Ga. Although she early escaped to California and fell in love with Tuscany, buying a house there, it only takes a trip to do a reading at Square Books in Oxford, MS., to bring back much of what it means to be Southern. She quotes Faulkner quite extensively, even visiting his house, though it was not open at the time and she had to be satisfied with peaking through the window and imagining his life within. Often humorous A charming and thoughtful meditation of her youth growing up in Fitzgerald, Ga. Although she early escaped to California and fell in love with Tuscany, buying a house there, it only takes a trip to do a reading at Square Books in Oxford, MS., to bring back much of what it means to be Southern. She quotes Faulkner quite extensively, even visiting his house, though it was not open at the time and she had to be satisfied with peaking through the window and imagining his life within. Often humorous in her antidotes about her complicated family history, though many are less than joyful, many difficult to relate, her attempt to comes to terms with the past, is evident. The smells of magnolia, wisteria, the pecan trees among others, NeHi orange and wrap around porches, the generosity and friendliness of the people all seem to be calling her back. Infusing her memory with visible evidence. She and her husband actually do move back, but this time to North Carolina. A charming and insightful read. Now I need to read Absalom, Absalom!, which she refers to in her book. ARC from Netgalley

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carol Bakker

    Sometimes a book has every advantage; the circumstances of my first reading couldn't be improved. I listened to this memoir while making the familiar six-hour drive (and back)to visit my grands. I was enwombed in my car while the windshield wipers swiped at the ubiquitous rain. Frances Mayes' melodious drawl made it seem like she sitting next to me, telling her melancholy story of conflict, loss, flight. So very different from her travel memoirs, Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, and A Year Sometimes a book has every advantage; the circumstances of my first reading couldn't be improved. I listened to this memoir while making the familiar six-hour drive (and back)to visit my grands. I was enwombed in my car while the windshield wipers swiped at the ubiquitous rain. Frances Mayes' melodious drawl made it seem like she sitting next to me, telling her melancholy story of conflict, loss, flight. So very different from her travel memoirs, Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, and A Year in the World. I feel this is Southern writing in the best sense of the word: overtones of Eudora Welty, Pat Conroy, Harper Lee...with just a hint of Flannery and Faulkner. There's a strong sense of place, a few freaks, significance of family, coming of age. But the words. Oh! They delighted, mesmerized, chiseled, charmed, saddened, filled. Even though I had another book and plenty of music, when I finished the book with two more hours of driving left, I put the first disc in and started again. Then I saw some of the structural magic Mayes made. I'm convinced if I had started with the print book, my rating would be lower. I believe that reading this *after* developing an appetite for Southern Literature was crucial. There are many catalogs—stream of consciousness-ish, but they made sense. If you are interested in writing a memoir, I'd highly recommend this.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    While this book does start off a bit slow and hard to follow, once you get into it, it is captivating and hard to put down. Don't give up on it after reading the preface, it does get better. The author's descriptive language, while sometimes distracting, mostly paints vivid pictures of her past. The stories she tells of her family and growing up in the South are interesting, and she seems to only cover important events or moments that stand out to her, rather than every detail of her life and While this book does start off a bit slow and hard to follow, once you get into it, it is captivating and hard to put down. Don't give up on it after reading the preface, it does get better. The author's descriptive language, while sometimes distracting, mostly paints vivid pictures of her past. The stories she tells of her family and growing up in the South are interesting, and she seems to only cover important events or moments that stand out to her, rather than every detail of her life and all the people she's ever met like some authors tend to do.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andie

    Frances Mayes rocketed to fame with her book Under the Tuscan Sun that can rightly be categorized as lifestyle pornography for middle-aged women. After mining this topic for years, she has now turned to her home turf, the American South, in a memoir that describes her southern Gothic childhood complete with a drunken and abusive father, a beautiful but disturbed mother, the beloved family retainer and grandparents who are actually called Daddy Jack, Big Momma and Big Daddy like characters out of Frances Mayes rocketed to fame with her book Under the Tuscan Sun that can rightly be categorized as lifestyle pornography for middle-aged women. After mining this topic for years, she has now turned to her home turf, the American South, in a memoir that describes her southern Gothic childhood complete with a drunken and abusive father, a beautiful but disturbed mother, the beloved family retainer and grandparents who are actually called Daddy Jack, Big Momma and Big Daddy like characters out of a Tennessee Williams play. Frances, the family after thought, is bright, but pretty insufferable - willful an opinionated. Her parents tolerate her eccentricities since his is the South and the only important thing in life is outward appearances. Nightly she hears the battles between her parents, but by day all is normal - her father helping to run the family mill and her mother occupying her time with bridge and the garden club. Frances' job is to grow up to be a model Southern woman and marry into a good family. While she is a cosseted member of her communities privileged class in her small town, her life is very constricted. Boyfriends need to come from "good families," options for college are restricted to the South, and no girl from a good family would ever have a summer job. After her father dies from an unexplained illness, that one assumes is cancer, Frances and her mother rely on her paternal grandfather, Daddy Jack, for money that he doles out with miles of strings attached to each check. Frances copes by spending as much time as possible away from home on school vacations, while her mother dives deeper and deeper into a gin bottle. Eventually Frances graduates from college, marries what appears to be a nice guy and moves to California. Years later, while on a book tour, she finds herself in Oxford, Mississippi and the lure of her roots pulls her back home. But not home exactly. Instead of the red dirt of a small Georgia town, she lands in a enclave of rich artists near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a university community full of those Yankees that her Daddy Jack warned her about years ago. From this prospective she can wax eloquently about how while "you can still see the Stars and Bars flying over a trailer in the woods.....still hear an occasional slur from someone who doesn't have the sense to see you don't agree....mostly the good inheritance of southern manners in both races prevail." As someone who lives in a different South, where things aren't so polite, I'd like to point out that she is largely living in fantasyland. Ms. Mayes is an evocative writer, spinning out beautiful prose. I just wish it was more honest.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Grainger

    Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am obsessed with books that are set in the South. So when I received my advanced copy of Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir from Good Reads, I felt like I won the lottery. This is a memoir that didn't disappoint. While some may become a bit distracted by the imagery Mayes used, I reveled in it. Her words painted the perfect picture for my imagination. I loved her style and structure of the text as it kept me more engaged as a reader. I agree that Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am obsessed with books that are set in the South. So when I received my advanced copy of Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir from Good Reads, I felt like I won the lottery. This is a memoir that didn't disappoint. While some may become a bit distracted by the imagery Mayes used, I reveled in it. Her words painted the perfect picture for my imagination. I loved her style and structure of the text as it kept me more engaged as a reader. I agree that there are definitely undertones of Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, and for me, it made the reading experience so rich for me--as if I was reacquainting myself with a long lost friend. I devoured it quickly, and I think if you pick up a copy, it will not disappoint you either!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gigi Ann

    I just couldn't get into this book. I was lost in most of what I read, so decided not to finish the book. I'm sure it you are a fan of Frances Mayes you will probably like the book, however sadly this book was not for me. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers and authors I am under no obligation to write a positive review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I received a copy of this book in print from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Frances Mayes, after her relocation to Tuscany, makes a impulsive move back to the south. She grew up in Georgia and moved to North Carolina, but just the same, it triggered a wave of memories and emotions that she turned into this memoir of her childhood. I connected with this book from multiple perspectives. As someone who has been away from "home" for almost ten years and is returning home this summer I received a copy of this book in print from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Frances Mayes, after her relocation to Tuscany, makes a impulsive move back to the south. She grew up in Georgia and moved to North Carolina, but just the same, it triggered a wave of memories and emotions that she turned into this memoir of her childhood. I connected with this book from multiple perspectives. As someone who has been away from "home" for almost ten years and is returning home this summer (although not the south and not permanently), I definitely identified with how the feeling of a place can practically change you back into the person you were. She captures the memories of the place triggered by certain trees, foods, even poems. Another point of interest is seeing the south through the eyes of one of its children, after returning back to it. I only know the south as an "outsider," and the mention of the Lane Cake "which no northerner could ever hope to emulate" made me want to run to the kitchen just to try. There are little details that I still see present in the very southern university where I work, such as Saturday classes to keep people out of trouble (which we had in the 1960s too!). Frances grew up in the south during a very interesting time, and she explores the changing landscape as it pertains to civil rights and birth control, but then also how it changed her life. The coda in particular puts a lot of the south into perspective for me - what remains after all the change, and what remains in the author after leaving where she grew up and forging her own life. She even seemed to let go of trying to be who she wasn't, after all the "south always has enjoyed its eccentric people." Little bits I liked: "Memory - a rebel force, a synaesthesia that storms the senses." "It was rude if you didn't call on people in the coffin, even if they'd never know."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    After reading the author's Under the Tuscan Sun and enjoying her meandering writing style and descriptive language, I decided to give her memoir a go. As one whose family roots have only recently been transplanted (I am second generation Italian American), I am fascinated by those who are surrounded by family and tradition like one finds in the Deep American South. Frances Mayes tackles her memoir after a book tour in Mississippi gives her the sudden desire to revisit her youth so she and her After reading the author's Under the Tuscan Sun and enjoying her meandering writing style and descriptive language, I decided to give her memoir a go. As one whose family roots have only recently been transplanted (I am second generation Italian American), I am fascinated by those who are surrounded by family and tradition like one finds in the Deep American South. Frances Mayes tackles her memoir after a book tour in Mississippi gives her the sudden desire to revisit her youth so she and her husband choose North Carolina rather than her native Georgia for their Southern replanting. This memoir is the story of her 1950 and 60's southern George smalltown youthful years. Although really, she is telling the broader story of the South itself as it shakes off the past to a certain extent and moves toward what it is today. Mayes opens the door and allows the reader behind the facade of her dysfunctional family home growing up with two alcoholics who had an unhealthy acrimonious love for each other. She is the third of three daughters when her father wanted a son and she was the late whoopsie baby at that. Her childhood mainstay was the family's daycook and cleaning woman, granddaughter of a slave, Willie Bell. I enjoyed her writing style that manages to tell the brutal truth while couching it so it feels like a story of yesteryear and coming of age. Its the story of resilience and finding oneself. I won't say I loved it or was riveted- it wasn't that kind of book, but I was thoroughly engaged and inside the author's world of the past. And lord, do I really want those Southern recipes she mentioned.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I was over-the-moon thrilled to receive an advance readers copy of Under, Magnolia by Frances Mayes. From the moment I first picked up Under the Tuscan Sun I became obsessed with Frances writing; Ive re-read that book so many times Ive lost count. Her life in Italy intrigued me, her thoughts on everything else under the sun intrigued me even more so. Under, Magnolia is different from her other writings, and yet it did not disappoint me. She says Since I love imagery, I will practice writing as I was over-the-moon thrilled to receive an advance reader’s copy of Under, Magnolia by Frances Mayes. From the moment I first picked up Under the Tuscan Sun I became obsessed with Frances’ writing; I’ve re-read that book so many times I’ve lost count. Her life in Italy intrigued me, her thoughts on everything else under the sun intrigued me even more so. Under, Magnolia is different from her other writings, and yet it did not disappoint me. She says “ Since I love imagery, I will practice writing as thought I were painting, as if my words would re-create a single glimpse of a panel of sunlight on the grass, the flash of a fish, the antique gold in the murky pond, the first scent of we lilacs, and then the under-scent of ashes and rain.” She accomplishes this, and then some. Her ability to portray imagery expands to include emotions, too. Her early years were riddled with confusion and conflict, and she is able, through her words to show the turmoil of her childhood and teen years. The tone of the book, to begin with, shows the surprise she experiences when she makes the decision to move back to the southern United States from her chosen exile in northern California; a world she left behind long ago for a more distant horizon. The momentousness of this decision quickly becomes clear. Frances Mayes was raised by a generation of southern women who depended on their (flawed) husbands, fathers, uncles to make all the family decisions, like it or not; for better or worse. The influence of her mother, flawed as well (and she makes it abundantly clear that none of us are ever perfect) had good and bad moments. She says she never forgets the “negative ions” of her mother, but from her, she also received a “shower of gifts”. Because of her – despite her, she is on “a quest to see everything I want to see, which is everything she never saw.” Frances Mayes, you are a gift to the world with your talent for your pen and speckled black notebooks. I thank you for this gem; this gift of your life and your words.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dana Booth

    This is the next book for my book club, but I just couldn't get through it. I should have known... reading Under the Tuscan Sun was tough for me. Just something about the way Frances Mayes writes - too flowery or something. Gave up early on.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Darlene

    Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir is Frances Mayes latest book and it shows a much different Frances Mayes than most of her readers are likely used to. In this memoir she takes us back to her roots and to the struggles and triumphs that made her who she is today. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Frances Mayes herself and I thought she did a wonderful job. To me a memoir is made all the more powerful when the author reads it themselves. Frances didnt have a rosy childhood with a Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir is Frances Mayes latest book and it shows a much different Frances Mayes than most of her readers are likely used to. In this memoir she takes us back to her roots and to the struggles and triumphs that made her who she is today. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Frances Mayes herself and I thought she did a wonderful job. To me a memoir is made all the more powerful when the author reads it themselves. Frances didn’t have a rosy childhood with a father who was quite ill and a mother who struggled with depression and alcoholism. From a young age she wondered why her family wasn’t like others and why they couldn’t be happy. I think it’s a testament to her that she became the amazing writer she is today. To overcome adversity and rise above it is always an inspiration to others. As a young woman she was basically told she needed a husband because that’s just how things were done and yet she wanted more for herself. I found too that the dynamic between mother and daughter was interesting. Despite the struggles with her mother Frances always make it clear that nobody is perfect and her mother had good and bad points. Truthfully we all do. While her mother left her with bad feelings she also left her with good ones. In all of it she realizes that her mother never got to have the life she may have wanted and it resulted in her alcoholism and depression. One of things that Frances said that stuck in my mind was that her mother’s life had blossomed into hers meaning that while her mother may not have gotten to see her dreams realized Frances was going to do it for her. It was just so profound to me to be so forgiving and accepting. This memoir is so different from her memoirs about Tuscany which I loved. Under Magnolia is all about Frances’ memories and she spins them quickly. It’s like a moving portrait of her past as she remembers and it’s very vivid and beautifully told; really very poetic. This memoir highlights Frances Mayes talents as a writer like no other! If you’re a fan of Frances Mayes and curious about her life then this memoir is one you’d like. I think those from the South will enjoy it even more as they can connect with the things she refers to and talks about. I’ve long been a fan of Frances Mayes work and her memoir left me feeling enriched for having listened to it especially with her telling her own story. Very moving!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I was a goodreads first reads winner of the book "Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir" I would give this an almost three. I was really hoping i would like this book better. I like reading memoirs. Frances Mayes writes about growing up in Georgia during the 40s and 50s it spanned from birth to college..She grew up the youngest with two older sisters. Her childhood was not always happy. There was a lot of strife. her father was temperamental and an alcoholic he also died in his late forties when I was a goodreads first reads winner of the book "Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir" I would give this an almost three. I was really hoping i would like this book better. I like reading memoirs. Frances Mayes writes about growing up in Georgia during the 40s and 50s it spanned from birth to college..She grew up the youngest with two older sisters. Her childhood was not always happy. There was a lot of strife. her father was temperamental and an alcoholic he also died in his late forties when Frances was 14. Her mother was unreliable and not always there for them too busy mixed up with her own issues. One woman who was a reliable person to the family and Frances was Willie Bell, a black woman who was the families housekeeper. The author is good at describing the South in the 40s and 50s. and what the scenery was like, such as the trees,wildlife. very hot summers. Problem for me is I had a hard time getting into this book at times. I seemed like I was reading and waiting for something to happen, but instead just pages of writing about things I could not even figure out. It could be interesting at times. The last chapter is in present time and how things have changed and not changed. Fans of Frances Mayes may like this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    George

    TEDIOUS. "Turn the kaleidoscope a quarter inch and shards of memory rearrange and shift, bright as ever."page 29 I suspect that Frances Mayes has never met a simple declarative sentence she couldn't obfuscate in southern smarm. In her 'personal' story, UNDER MAGNOLIA: A Southern Memoir, she relates the tales her dad's heroicsbeing shot and seriously wounded by a double-murderer, and three or four violent suicides of personal friends, or of a parent of personal friends, with the same southern TEDIOUS. "Turn the kaleidoscope a quarter inch and shards of memory rearrange and shift, bright as ever."—page 29 I suspect that Frances Mayes has never met a simple declarative sentence she couldn't obfuscate in southern smarm. In her 'personal' story, UNDER MAGNOLIA: A Southern Memoir, she relates the tales her dad's heroics—being shot and seriously wounded by a double-murderer, and three or four violent suicides of personal friends, or of a parent of personal friends, with the same southern insouciance and nonchalance with which she might tell you: it was her daddy's daddy who planted roses on the place. Recommendation: If you 'absolutely loved' any of Frances Mayes's other books, you will probably like this one too—else it's pretty tedious. "The South always has enjoyed its eccentric people. I'm glad because I intend to become more and more that way myself. I'm done with my life quest to appear normal."—page 217 Adobe digital edition, 234 pages

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Boyce

    While I didn't think this book was bad exactly, it just wasn't suited to my tastes. I was interested in the story (which is why I entered the giveaway) but I found that the writing was just a little too descriptive for me to enjoy. I love descriptive writing, when an author paints a picture in the readers head, but this book was overly descriptive. The descriptions seemed almost cloying and I found myself wishing for some straightforward facts mixed in. Maybe later in life I'll give this book While I didn't think this book was bad exactly, it just wasn't suited to my tastes. I was interested in the story (which is why I entered the giveaway) but I found that the writing was just a little too descriptive for me to enjoy. I love descriptive writing, when an author paints a picture in the readers head, but this book was overly descriptive. The descriptions seemed almost cloying and I found myself wishing for some straightforward facts mixed in. Maybe later in life I'll give this book another shot, but as it stands this book was just a little too descriptive for my tastes at this point in my life.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Carroll

    I won this in a giveaway. I read it but was hesitant to give an immediate response. I wanted to like the book as it's the type I enjoy. However, I have to admit that even though it's not a bad story it lacks spirit and soul. It's merely words on paper of a life. Perhaps if the author reread it and included actual feelings in the experiences, it would help. I think it's a good draft but needs work in order to help transport the reader into the story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jo-Ann Murphy

    This is a beautifully written book. The language and vivid descriptions just draw the reader into the scene. While her story takes place in the United States South and I am a Northern girl, I found I could relate to so much of the book. Words of song brought back vivid memories of my own childhood. Tales of her family related to experiences I had in my own family. At times, she offered a different way of reacting that I had not considered in my own situation that made me think and wonder about This is a beautifully written book. The language and vivid descriptions just draw the reader into the scene. While her story takes place in the United States South and I am a Northern girl, I found I could relate to so much of the book. Words of song brought back vivid memories of my own childhood. Tales of her family related to experiences I had in my own family. At times, she offered a different way of reacting that I had not considered in my own situation that made me think and wonder about how that approach would have worked for me. At other times, it pointed out the vast difference between the attitudes in the North and the South. The author had a privileged childhood. The death of her father when she was a teenager changed the family circumstances but did not really impact her life until her grandfather died. Her description of her life in books and the way she discusses the literature is a joy. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the remembering and the learning about another area of our country.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Afaf Finan

    A thoroughly enjoyable memoir! Frances Mayes takes the reader on a fascinating journey through Georgia, passing through Florida and Alabama during the fifties and sixties. One of her writing goals in her senior year at the University of Florida, was to write as though she is painting. That is evident in her autobiography. In addition to her gift of story telling, her subtle sense of humor always lies just under the surface! A thoroughly enjoyable memoir! Frances Mayes takes the reader on a fascinating journey through Georgia, passing through Florida and Alabama during the fifties and sixties. One of her writing goals in her senior year at the University of Florida, was to “write as though she is painting”. That is evident in her autobiography. In addition to her gift of story telling, her subtle sense of humor always lies just under the surface!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Arlene

    I had a hard time getting into the story at first. Thia was Frances Mayes' life when she was younger. I love Under The Tuscan Sun better than this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    I had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a face as I never, ever do that (in fact, I even stopped flipping around in Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography and started reading it straight through!) But I think that is a great way to read this book. I was under the mistaken impression that the book was about Ms. Mayes's moving back to the South (North Carolina) as an adult (after her I had an unusual experience with the book. The woman who loaned it to me had said that she was "dipping in and out of it" and internally I made a face as I never, ever do that (in fact, I even stopped flipping around in Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography and started reading it straight through!) But I think that is a great way to read this book. I was under the mistaken impression that the book was about Ms. Mayes's moving back to the South (North Carolina) as an adult (after her sojourn in Italy). Instead, that bookends the memoir, but the book is about her growing up and ends when she's about 22. From Fitzgerald, Georgia (one college professor upon hearing the name of her hometown did remark "Isn't that a bit much?"), she was the much youngest (eight years behind her nearest sister) daughter of a couple of fought bitterly and dark heavily. Her father ran his father's fabric mill, and her mother was a good housewife of the 1950s, painting her nails, baking brownies, and recovering furniture (with the help of an African-American maid.) Frances never quite fit in. Chomping at the bit to get out from her small town and repressive family from a young age, she did eventually get to go away to college (first Randolph-Macon and then the University of Florida) but she seemed never to feel completely free of the South until the death of her parents. It seems as if only when that last tie was severed, could she make the choice to return without repercussions. The book is filled with languid tales of floating down rivers in summer, buying Capezios and going on dates, sneaking out of the dorms to have fun and party. It also has sordid stories of mental abuse, withholding, manipulation, and other trials of familial love gone wrong. Each chapter stand on its own and can be read as an essay. They are in chronological order in the Book, but the past doesn't inform the future much. A few characters do progress--most often by deterioration, not growth--but for me it did not gel as a single narrative. Instead, I found that when I tried to read it straight through, I did not enjoy it. But when I read it in short bits here and there, I did. That's strange. Most books improve with a large block of time when you can delve deeply into it, but this one didn't. When I tried that, the stories felt repetitive, unremittingly cruel, and a little boring. But when I switched back to the short stretches of reading, it improved immensely. Maybe you need to digest the parts. Or maybe you need to stay on the surface and not delve too deeply. Whatever the reason, this is the perfect book if you know you don't have a lot of time and are looking for a book which you can set down and it won't suffer from the delay. This one improves.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margo

    In her recent memoir, Frances Mayes has come full circle, coming to terms with and celebrating her southern upbringing. Mayes uses the rich imagery that graced her Tuscan memoirs and applies her vivid descriptive powers to the South of her girlhood, indeed the South, as we discover, that created her love of words. She explains: "Since I love imagery, I will practice writing as though I were painting, as if my words could re-create a single glimpse of a panel of sunlight on the grass, the flash In her recent memoir, Frances Mayes has come full circle, coming to terms with – and celebrating – her southern upbringing. Mayes uses the rich imagery that graced her Tuscan memoirs and applies her vivid descriptive powers to the South of her girlhood, indeed the South, as we discover, that created her love of words. She explains: "Since I love imagery, I will practice writing as though I were painting, as if my words could re-create a single glimpse of a panel of sunlight on the grass, the flash of a fish, antique gold in the murky pond, the first scent of wet lilacs, and then the underscent of ashes and rain." She writes, further…"In The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash maintained that the blue air, softening all edges, gave us our ambiguous ways of seeing things." Mayes characterizes southern writers evocatively: "Memory—a rebel force, a synesthesia that storms the senses. All southern writers have to be drawn to the eccentric language of the South, the rhythmic loops of the narrative, wild metaphors and hyperbole, larger-than-life figures in local legends, the still-alive folktale pattern of telling three incidents in order to illustrate a point." Mayes has re-found her community, as she describes: "People talk to you everywhere. Waiting at the dentist, filling the tank, checking out at the grocery store. Each gesture may mean little, but cumulatively, there's a message: you are not alone." As she and her husband settle into their new North Carolina home, she reconnects with her past and the interwoven threads of southern community life, which, on many levels, reminds her of her beloved Tuscany. Her voice is sure and incisive, and she relates a continual story from her childhood: "One sass at the table and out I had to go to pick my privet switch in the yard. As I stalked through the kitchen, Willie Bell just shook her head. 'When are you going to learn?' she said quietly. 'Just don't talk back.'" Indeed, as readers, we should rejoice that she never stopped talking back; her voice is vibrant and clear and often full of sass. She writes: "Imagine, writing a book. What else could you do with your life that could compare with that?" and we are grateful that she has done so. This is a perfect book for southerners eager to look at their way of life, for writers afraid to take risks, and for readers wanting to read a memoir as firmly grounded in memory as it is in a deep sense of place.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Moore

    I was anxious to read this memoir after having read and loved the well-known book Under the Tuscan Sun by, Frances Mayes. Written with a flair for beautifully descriptive prose, the memories in this book go back to the author's early years, growing up in the south, reflecting a time of innocence, tradition, segregation, and discovery. Her sheltered and privileged life was tarnished by a father's explosive temper and abuse of alcohol by both parents. Willie Bell, the family's maid and her I was anxious to read this memoir after having read and loved the well-known book Under the Tuscan Sun by, Frances Mayes. Written with a flair for beautifully descriptive prose, the memories in this book go back to the author's early years, growing up in the south, reflecting a time of innocence, tradition, segregation, and discovery. Her sheltered and privileged life was tarnished by a father's explosive temper and abuse of alcohol by both parents. Willie Bell, the family's maid and her confidant, advises Frances to know when to bite her tongue... something she never forgot. Now able to look back and freely express her thoughts, she paints a picture of life in the 40s and 50s, controlled by parents, grandparents, and society as she enters her adult years. Behind the guise of a proper upbringing, her dysfunctional family life was something she struggled to overcome. An over-protective grandfather Daddy Jack, ruled the family with an iron fist after her father died of a lingering illness when she was a young girl, while her mother sank into depression as an early widow. I loved hearing about connections she made to literature, especially the D.H. Lawrence epitaph she wanted for her tombstone. The escapades she had in college despite the “1000 rules to live by” were adventurous and vividly recalled. My own memories go back as far as the early 60s, but as a much younger child then I didn't experience the significance of civil rights or invention of The Pill firsthand. Still I recognized some of the same curiosities growing up, such as summer camp and the first boy/girl kiss. The mention of food was not left out and several southern delicacies had my mouth watering. Highly recommended, this book will transport readers to a past time that now seems gentler despite all that was endured.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I should have known that Under Magnolia would be incredible as soon as I saw who wrote it. Frances Mayes has a pretty incredible resumé. Ever heard of Under the Tuscan Sun? That's what I thought. Mayes has a beautiful vocabulary - one that makes you feel the sticky heat of the South, hear the dialect of her family's maid, taste her mother's homemade dessert, and smell the sweet magnolias that always seem to be present. Her dysfunctional family life is one that many readers can relate to, I think I should have known that Under Magnolia would be incredible as soon as I saw who wrote it. Frances Mayes has a pretty incredible resumé. Ever heard of Under the Tuscan Sun? That's what I thought. Mayes has a beautiful vocabulary - one that makes you feel the sticky heat of the South, hear the dialect of her family's maid, taste her mother's homemade dessert, and smell the sweet magnolias that always seem to be present. Her dysfunctional family life is one that many readers can relate to, I think - much older sisters who want little to nothing to do with her, a father with anger problems and health problems, a mother who slips into depression and alcoholism after her husband passes, and grandparents who reign over all the chaos. Through all of it, though, they love each other - and passionately. This memoir isn't like any other that I've read. It moves quickly, in snapshots. It keeps a pretty steady chronological order, for the most part, but don't be surprised when Mayes jumps to the future and then back to her childhood in a single paragraph. This makes sense, though, because it is largely based on memories, which seem to bounce around here and there. I especially loved this memoir because I am so in love with Southern culture. Currently, I am in a Southern literature class, so reading this was a great supplementary text to balance out the more "traditional" works. I left this book feeling like I had just had a conversation with a childhood friend. I felt fulfilled, but still wanting more.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I will say that it started off a little bit slow, but as Mayes's life story progressed, or rather, she delved further back into her memories, the book became more interesting. While she grew up in an entirely different era from me, it still resonated with me because I lived in a small Southern town, went to a small Southern college, and where I studied English. Like Mayes, I having a deep sense of place, which is also very prominent in Southern literature, is important in my life. I have a love I will say that it started off a little bit slow, but as Mayes's life story progressed, or rather, she delved further back into her memories, the book became more interesting. While she grew up in an entirely different era from me, it still resonated with me because I lived in a small Southern town, went to a small Southern college, and where I studied English. Like Mayes, I having a deep sense of place, which is also very prominent in Southern literature, is important in my life. I have a love for the South, yet, like her, I still have to reconcile things that I don't like with the strange sense of belonging I feel. The memoir had some humorous antidotes about being in the South during a period of great change, attending a women's college, and her thoughts on life, which tempered nicely with the heartbreaking parts of her family life. I think that if there was too much humor or too much heartbreak, the memoir would not have struck such a chord with me. Finally, wait for the "Coda" at the end. The summary; the epilogue; the final thoughts. They make the entire memoir crystallize and touch your heart - regardless of where you live. They are thoughts on life and the human experience, but specifically Mayes's experiences. This is a memoir that will stay with me, much in the same way that Bastard Out of Carolina (although it is more of a autobiographical novel) will. This memoir is definitely worth your time.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Hood

    Frances Mayes is a true commander of prose and invites us southerners back into a world both familiar and foreign. All of our stories seem intertwined yet uniquely identified by the colorful southern characters that fill our lives. Definitely one of the better memoirs I've ever read. I recently moved back to my hometown in Georgia and felt that family ache and tug of old memories that warm your heart. I got a little bored when she moved off to college and I see why she had many later problems in Frances Mayes is a true commander of prose and invites us southerners back into a world both familiar and foreign. All of our stories seem intertwined yet uniquely identified by the colorful southern characters that fill our lives. Definitely one of the better memoirs I've ever read. I recently moved back to my hometown in Georgia and felt that family ache and tug of old memories that warm your heart. I got a little bored when she moved off to college and I see why she had many later problems in her marriages. I also felt they abandoned Frankye to a life of solitude. Who puts their mother in a nursing home and visits once a year? In my family abandonment is not an option. I also found the laments on money deceiving. This is a woman who lived a lavish life and now splits her life between two countries....not sure if she knows what it means to be broke. Either way I enjoyed it and look forward to re-reading Under the Tuscan Sun.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Smithem

    As a Southerner, I found this book to ring true to my own years growing up in a small town. Her conclusion that she was the sum of all the people -- the good and the bad -- in her life also rang true with me. They lyric prose was balm for my soul. And I actually read this when the magnolia trees surrounding my own porch were in full bloom. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened. So there I was, rocking on my porch with the scent of magnolias in my nose, warm breezes circulating the scents As a Southerner, I found this book to ring true to my own years growing up in a small town. Her conclusion that she was the sum of all the people -- the good and the bad -- in her life also rang true with me. They lyric prose was balm for my soul. And I actually read this when the magnolia trees surrounding my own porch were in full bloom. I didn't plan it that way, it just happened. So there I was, rocking on my porch with the scent of magnolias in my nose, warm breezes circulating the scents from the ocean and reading of Mayes own summers at the beach. Reading of her attempts to make sense of the cracked, strange and broken family that was hers. This book will be re-read. And I've got to get a physical copy because I read a borrowed digital copy from the library and didn't mark up the passages I loved.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joan Grubbs

    I wanted to like this book, but I honestly never got into it. Having read some of Mayes' books before, I expected something a little different. As someone who has visited Tuscany, San Francisco and who lives in the south, I found I could not agree with her comparing Georgia to Tuscany. There are no similarities, in my mind between the Italian people and countryside to those of the south. It only took a few pages for me to understand that she was raised in a highly dysfunctional,violent, alcohol I wanted to like this book, but I honestly never got into it. Having read some of Mayes' books before, I expected something a little different. As someone who has visited Tuscany, San Francisco and who lives in the south, I found I could not agree with her comparing Georgia to Tuscany. There are no similarities, in my mind between the Italian people and countryside to those of the south. It only took a few pages for me to understand that she was raised in a highly dysfunctional,violent, alcohol fueled household. Okay, I got it.Now let's move on. But she never did. Just more than I needed to know about her life of privilege and all the details of her angst filled teen years and college life. The constant reference to "Yankees" got to me after a while. Sorry, this one is a thumbs down for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Feigert

    I have read Ms. Mayes trilogy about her life in Italy. And I like them well enough. But I must say that this is my favorite of her books. She always mentioned in her southern roots in her previous book so it was interesting to read the full story. I know this is a memoir but in many ways it was also a history of growing up in the deep south in the 50's and 60's. Willie Bell reminding me of characters from The Help. Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book; "Maybe it's the food of the I have read Ms. Mayes trilogy about her life in Italy. And I like them well enough. But I must say that this is my favorite of her books. She always mentioned in her southern roots in her previous book so it was interesting to read the full story. I know this is a memoir but in many ways it was also a history of growing up in the deep south in the 50's and 60's. Willie Bell reminding me of characters from The Help. Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book; "Maybe it's the food of the south that makes its children long so for home." (She loves food) Also "Sometimes you have to travel back in time,skirting obstacles, in order to love someone." This was in reference to her parents and grandfather. If you enjoyed her other books you will really like this book.

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