Author: Claire Fullerton
Published: June 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction
Category: 1970s Southern Fiction, Family Saga, Book Review
The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.
Born in Minnesota, and spending their formative years there, ten-year old Mille Crossan and her older brother Finley were uprooted and moved to Memphis.
Posey Crossan, their mother, had made the decision, without any warning, to leave Minnesota and her alcoholic husband and return to the world she knew. She slid back into the glittering and genteel Memphis way of life as though she had never been away. Millie and Finley found the transition hard, they missed their father and never stopped loving him despite being discouraged by his inability to stop drinking. Life in Memphis was totally different to anything they’d experienced and they felt a sense of not belonging. But at least they had each other.
The Memphis Finley and I landed in was my mother’s Memphis. It was magnolia-lined and manicured, black-tailed and bow-tied. It glittered in illusory gold and tinkled in sing-song voices. It was cloistered, segregated, and well-appointed, the kind of place where everyone monogrammed their initials on everything from hand towels to silver because nothing mattered more than one’s family and to whom they were connected by lineage that traced through the fertile fields of the Mississippi Delta.
Living in a house that couldn’t be less child friendly, with a self-absorbed, controlling step father, her mother’s time taken up with her new husband and the social whirl, Millie’s world revolves around Finley, the brother she looks up to. He becomes the focus of her life and she adores him. They rely on each other, as they try to fit into this new way of life.
We experience events exclusively through Millie’s eyes, her memories of her father and life in Minnesota, her dislike and fear of the house in Memphis and the ways in which she and Finley cope. Millie is proud of Finley’s academic and musical prowess and enjoys the attention it brings her as his sister. Finley is a complex personality, complicated yet insightful. He seems to have found his place as a rock guitarist and founder of a band. But it wasn’t to be.
Inevitably, as Millie enters her mid to late teens she challenges and questions the superficiality of her mother’s world. Finley, home for the first time since leaving for university in Virginia, acts as peacemaker. Millie is reluctance to attend the coming out ball, unable to see the point—one of the instances when Finley talks Millie round and smooths things over. Their paths eventually diverge and although the bond is never broken, Millie finds herself in the position of being the last to know what’s happening in her brother’s life.
Claire Fullerton brings 1970s Memphis to evocative, lyrical life. A society that’s all about appearances, anything unsavoury or unpleasant isn’t allowed to disturb the surface, awkward circumstances are brushed aside. We also get to see the other side of Memphis, the segregation and the flourishing music scene in the less cultured and respectable side of the city.
An array of colourful characters are exquisitely drawn, and the descriptive prose conjures up a true sense of place. A wonderfully atmospheric snapshot of a bygone era.
I chose to read and review Mourning Dove based on an advance reader copy supplied by the author