Three women, with only loose connections in the beginning, take turns narrating their stories that eventually will draw them together in Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera, just published on June 11. Each woman hefts a heavy load in life without help or heed. Each is courageous, not so much from choice, but because there is nothing else to be. Set in rural 1924 South Carolina, the boll weevil has eaten the cotton crops with days of depression soon to come, but their difficulties go beyond the poverty they face.
Gertrude Pardee begins her narrative with “It’s easier to kill a man than a gator, but it takes the same kind of wait.” She deals with an abusive husband, always wondering what she has done to cause his cruelty, until he begins to abuse their four daughters as well. The way she deals with it will haunt her through the rest of the book.
Annie Coles, seemingly from the upper class, begins, “Every time the telephone rings, I am amazed,” and goes on to say that her husband not only bought one phone for the house, but one for her Sewing Circle, making them the first rural town for miles to be connected to the outside world. But there are secrets with two estranged daughters; two sons, one with a stutter and one who shadows his father; and another son who carried a secret into suicide.
The third woman is Retta Bootles who begins her story, “I am an old Negro woman, too old to carry a crying white child across town and through the thicket of cypress that leads into Shake Rag where we live.” In the first generation of freedom, she is still working for the Coles. Hampered by the customs of the times, she may be the strongest of the three. Her love for her husband and her faith give her strength, and her ability to “see” the dead, including her own daughter, keeps her connected to those she has lost.
Their way wends toward the annual church camp where much of the story resides. The rural religion of the women, treated honestly and respectfully, is a vital element and rings true.
The book is not a light read, but a compelling one. Secrets begin at the first chapter and do not let up until the end which is necessary, but not “happily ever after.” Once you start the book, plan on leaving the dusting until another day.
For those in reach of the Mississippi Book Festival on August 17, the appearance of the author Deb Spera will be an added bonus.