Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Undertaker's Daughter

Author: Kate Mayfield
Genre: Memoir
Type: e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: January 13, 2015
First Line: "Mayfield and Son funeral home."

Book Description from GoodReads:  What if the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach’s Stiff.

The first time I touched a dead person, I was too short to reach into the casket, so my father picked me up and I leaned in for that first, empty, cold touch. It was thrilling, because it was an unthinkable act.

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets—except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.

In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  In this memoir, Kate Mayfield writes honestly about her life growing up in an unusual setting: a funeral home.  Her family life is definitely not ordinary and you feel for her as she tries to navigate within her familial dysfunction, her unique living situation and life in small town (sometimes small minded) Kentucky.

This book had some great moments and some 'just okay' moments for me.  I enjoyed the author's voice and had to keep reminding myself that this was a memoir because it read much more like a fictional read and definitely had a 'stranger than fiction' feel to it.  And although it did tend to drag a bit in the beginning for me, the pace picked up towards the end climaxing with a very distressing scene between two of the characters.

There's a lot going on in this book besides life in a funeral home (which if I'm being honest took a back seat to other story lines the older Kate got).  It dealt with segregation, alcoholism, mental illness, death and even a lawsuit.  The reader also gets a peek at some of the unique services that the undertakers of the time offered.

The book blurb describes this book as a cross between The Help and Six Feet Under but to me the association with The Help was a little weak. I had expected a lot more on that topic but got much more about the inner workings of a funeral home and the antics of the townspeople which were interesting but not what I had expected to read.

In the end this book focused on a tumultuous and dysfunctional family with many secrets. The characters were unique and I liked getting a unique look at what life was like for Mayfield as she struggled to come to terms with her changing view of her father, her town's restrictive view of race and her very tumultuous relationship with her older sister.  While this is not a light-hearted read it did ooze Southern charm and I enjoyed getting a view into Mayfield's unique life and struggles.

My Rating: 3/5 stars


Michelle S said...

Great review! I agree with what you said. There was a lot to like about the book, but not a lot to love. It definitely did read like a novel, didn't it? I think that is one of the reasons why I struggled with it as much as I did.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Agreed. The writer had a nice writing style but the characters definitely had a fictional feel to them. Liked it, didn't love it.

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