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 tales 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.
“[A] gutsy, honest portrait of the artist as a young girl.”– Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Like the rest of America, I fell in love with Tuscany and Italy when I read Frances Mayes's wondrous memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun. She followed her Tuscan books with a beautiful novel called Swan, which alerted me to her southern heritage. In her new southern memoir, Under Magnolia, Frances Mayes describes the birth of her extraordinary sensibility, the deep-pooled clarity of her writing, her giddy love of nature, and her sharp and satirical eye for those who brought her up to honorable womanhood in the tortured South of her girlhood. Her prose style is seamless to me and she writes in a royal style.” –Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and The Death of Santini
"No other writer today breathes life into place like Frances Mayes. In Under Magnolia, she turns her prolific gift of language and description to the South and her childhood there. This memoir recalls bygone days filled with neighborhood characters, sultry weather, Sears Roebuck catalogues, smothered quail—all the trappings of a Southern childhood. Under Magnolia is a love song, a rich and beautiful book." – Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
“No one could have invented a more combustible, joy-starved pair of glam and oblivious parents or a more incandescent child to dive into the blue ruins, explore the sealed-off passages, blacked-out dreams and neglected outlets by the beams of her own incredulous eyes; then break the surface a smart-mouthed, truth-seeing sensualist, fully in attendance to the vibratory moment. The deft framing, the exacting word picks, apposite references, high speed wit, singled out synecdoches of a life; the cadence, phrasing, and pulse of a muted Georgian accent are all signature to the prose and poetry, stove-tops and passport stamps of Frances Mayes. In her memoir Under Magnolia they are second skin. When she comes clean, you feel, can I say it, cleansed. Freer. Floatable. What an offering.” – C.D. Wright, author of One with Others
"Under Magnolia is much more than an entrancing memoir: it is a work of art that defies the distinction between prose and poetry or novels and autobiographies. It is also much more than a personal narrative: it is an unflinching meditation on the relation between self and culture, and, more specifically, on the gravitational pull of memory. This is a book to be savored, a feast for both mind and soul." – Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana
"Mayes has written a brash and delightful, cringe-worthy and uproariously funny memoir. As I read, I wished Mayes had been my teenage neighbor. Wit–as well as misery–loves company." –Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie
“Under Magnolia is one of the most brilliant memoirs ever written, shedding new light on a certain mysterious South and offering a memorable portrait of the artist as a young girl. Frances Mayes, a petite, brainy beauty from what we used to call politely 'a troubled home' has written an unnervingly honest and refreshingly open account of how a child can be neglected even amid privilege and a large family... Reader, artist, scholar, poet—Frances Mayes gradually became the aesthete and writer she is today, a passionate lover of the world and the word.” –Lee Smith, author of Guests on Earth
From the Hardcover edition.
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France's Mayes is like a warm old friend.
- Kevin Graves
Writing deserves a professional narrator
The beauty of Frances Mayes writing is sensual, searching and compelling.
The most memorable moments were the charged interactions with her father, who was alternately doting and abusive. I also enjoyed the spontaneous scenes. For example, as a teen-ager, she went swimming with a boyfriend, pulled off her suit while submerged and tied it to her foot as she swam to the next shoreline before tugging it back on. Such passages pull one in!
Frances Maye's writing reveals a passionate and spunky girl coming of age, and her eloquence is delightful. I would have liked to heard this narrated by a skilled voice talent who could have imbued the words with their inherent spark. I found the author's voice to be rather flat and plaintive, belying the verve of her true character.
Sadly, there was little heart in her family. Frances Mayes takes risks and writes of herself and her family members frankly. But the dynamics of despair and blaming cast a pall of inertness, despite the drama of hurtful fights.
I'd imagine those who grew up in a family stressed by alcoholism might well appreciate the author's insightfulness. Furthermore, her vivid descriptions evoke the South with warmth, subtlety and spice. Personally, I did not complete the book. My sense was that the author fled the family rather than outgrew it, and her risks are those of impulsivity rather than a process of evolving commitment. That said, she clearly is a disciplined and highly talented writer who grows through exploring her charged back history. If others' endorsement of this book speak to you, I recommend you check it out.