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Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir    by Frances Mayes order for
Under Magnolia
by Frances Mayes
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

I'm trying to write a review for Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes and I don't know where to start. I fell in love with Mayes' writing some time ago when I read her Under the Tuscan Sun. She is a fairly prolific writer and has given me many hours of delightful reading.

Under Magnolia is a much different book than I expected. Mayes pulls images and thoughts of the South out of her memory bank and shares them with her readers. What gracious sharing.

Her family, like so many other families was dysfunctional. She is the third daughter in her family. Her parents were content with the older two daughters they already had. Frances sort of lived out in left field until she was able to strike out on her own. Her father died in his fifties and left them in poor shape financially. Daddy Jack, her grandfather, bailed them out, grudgingly and paid their bills but demanded all four women demur to his wishes. He held the purse strings so Frances attended Randolph-Macon College, close to Fitzgerald, Georgia, the seat of the family home, instead of the college of her choice. Too much money, he claimed. He didn't believe women should even attend college, so it was a concession on his part.

Willie Bell, the family's paid help, became Frances' substitute mother. She cherishes her memories of Willie Bell but not the pain felt by the whole family when Willie Bell left for the North and a higher salary.

As interesting as Frances' life is her escape to California, as well as Tuscany - her take on the South is what resonates throughout the pages. She sees and hears and feels and tastes so much more than you or I would. Her walk through a southern wooded area makes the whole journey come alive with the way she notices everything and projects the glory or beauty or utter uselessness of what she sees. The color of a leaf that is turned toward the sun. A small patch of moss that the sun touches and makes its green color glow. Her delight in a familiar bush or a sapling that has magically become a young tree.

Living life is her thing. How she glories in it. Her return to Georgia is triumphant. She is glad to be back home with the good memories she has stored to bring them alive again. And I'm so glad she has done so.

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