Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: The Well and the Mine, by Gin Philips

Review: The Well and the Mine, by Gin Phillips

Summary from Goodreads: 

"After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing the splash." 

So begins The Well and the Mine, a magnificent debut novel set in 1930s Alabama. The place is Carbon Hill, a small coal-mining community, in the midst of the Depression. The Moore family, a loving brood of five, is better off than most, generous to their less fortunate neighbors. But darkness arrives at their doorstep when a mysterious woman throws a baby down the Moores' well, and the story slowly unfolds, through the alternating voices of nine-year-old Tess (who witnessed the crime); her older sister, Virgie; her brother, Jack; and her parents, Albert and Leta.

The mystery of the baby and why the Moores' well was the chosen location for its disposal is the catalyst of this intimate novel -- the splash whose ripples widen to reveal a community divided by race and class. The revelation of this shadowy side of life in Carbon Hill is leavened by the awakening conscience of a family that survives adversity with pluck and determination. In her first novel, Phillips has found beauty, depth, and the promise of salvation in one strong Southern clan.

My thoughts:

Gin Phillips does a beautiful job of painting a picture of Depression era Alabama. Through the viewpoints of one family in the coal mining town of Carbon Hill, she brings alive a time that many young people today can't imagine, much less relate to. The writing is superb; it often feels like you're sitting down with these people at their kitchen table while they tell you a fine story over a tall glass of sweet tea. I love that Phillips shows an accurate picture of Southern life--the heat, the love of family, the complicated social relationships--without a derogatory or melodramatic tone. It's very real.

If you're looking for a leisurely read that will take you back in time, this is your book. If you're looking for a conflict-driven page-turner, this book isn't for you. Although the mystery of the woman who dropped her baby in the well adds some suspense in the beginning, this is really a slow-paced, Sunday-afternoon-drive through the country. Kick back, relax, and enjoy the view.

This would also make a great read for those of you in high school who can pick your summer reading selections. There's enough history and symbolism in this book to please just about any lit teacher. 

Happy reading!

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