cover image In the Country of Women

In the Country of Women

Susan Straight. Catapult, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-948226-22-6

Novelist Straight (Between Heaven and Here) focuses on the lives of the women in her family in this moving memoir. The narrative is framed as a letter to Straight’s three daughters—Gaila, Delphine, and Rosette—whom Straight shares with her ex-husband Dwayne Sims, and honors the daughters’ rich ancestral past through stories of female relatives struggling to overcome violence, oppression, and hardship. Straight celebrates Jennie Stevenson, an aunt on the Sims side who, in the early 1900s, shot a man who cornered her, and Straight’s mother, a Swiss immigrant who left home after her stepmother tried to marry her off at 15 to a pig farmer. The author excels in chapters about raising her kids, and about finding her place in the Sims clan (Straight is white, Sims is African-American). She feels indebted to her mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, who showed her how to keep family and friends close (“she took my hand and led me to the kitchen.... Alberta cooked for the whole community”). In the touching final chapter, Straight reflects on the enduring power of memory: “All we women have to give you is memory.... What we felt we might keep to ourselves, unless someone wrote it down.” Straight passionately illuminates the hard journeys of women. (Aug.)