My Drowning

Jim Grimsley, Author
Jim Grimsley, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $18.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-56512-141-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-684-84123-6
Open Ebook - 267 pages - 978-1-56512-785-2
Hardcover - 978-1-84115-135-9
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The third novel by this PEN/Hemingway Award finalist (Dream Boy; Winter Birds) is an evocative, uncompromising account of a hardscrabble childhood in rural North Carolina that shows Grimsley to be an accomplished stylist and a complex moralist. The narrator is the aged Ellen Tote, refugee from a life of bitter privation. ""When I look back... [at] that hard winter in a house not fit for people,"" Ellen muses, ""I amaze myself that my hatred does not burn me crisp."" A full stomach nourished by more than fatback and biscuits, steady work, a life unimpeded by the shadows of superstition and poor health, even the homely sight of a full refrigerator--one of ""a thousand insignificant details"" that come to mean freedom to the adult Ellen Tote--seem cruelly unreachable to the struggling family. The girl is cowed by the sullen and sometimes violent marriage between Mama and her taciturn spouse, who bristles with bitterness. In the carefully honed episodes of the novel, Ellen remembers a father whose fist lashed out at his infant son; her sodden, lecherous Uncle Cope; her older sister Nora, blindly hostile to her; a crippled brother, Joe Robbie, dead before his eighth birthday; and two recurrent dreams, metaphors for the inroads that poverty has made on the family and on the soul. The first dream reflects young Ellen's fear of a monster in the woods, ready to make a child its prey--a nightmarish vision that even Ellen's mother comes to share. The second recurrent dream is of Ellen's mother surrendering her body to ""the black water"" of the river. A book that begins with a drowning and ends with a funeral certainly maps somber territory, but here, as in his other novels, Grimsley's delicate prose and the defiant resilience of his protagonist make reading his work a richly gratifying experience. (Jan.)
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