Title: The Well and the Mine
Author: Gin Phillips
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Author Website: www.ginphillips.com
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Challenge: 75 Books 09
With an introduction by Fannie Flagg Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
A novel of warmth and true feeling, The Well and the Mine explores the value of community, charity, family, and hope that we can give each other during a time of hardship.
In a small Alabama coal-mining town during the summer of 1931, nine-year-old Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches a woman toss a baby into her family’s well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her older sister Virgie to look beyond their own door and learn the value of kindness and lending a helping hand. As Tess and Virgie try to solve the mystery of the well, an accident puts their seven-year-old brother’s life in danger, revealing just what sorts of sacrifices their parents, Albert and Leta, have made in order to give their children a better life, and the power of love and compassion to provide comfort to those we love.
I will honestly admit up front that the only reason I requested this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program is because Fannie Flagg wrote the introduction. The description sounded acceptable, but really, it all came down to Fannie Flagg for me. I love Fannie Flagg and all of her books, and I thought, "Fannie Flagg hasn't written anything in quite awhile now, but at least I'll get to read an introduction by her!" Well, how wrong I was. I not only got an introduction by Fannie Flagg, but I also got a book that is honest, funny, poignant and touching all wrapped up into a story that I won't forget anytime soon.
Taking place in 1931, The Well and the Mine tells the story of Albert and Leta Moore and their family, daughters Virgie and Tess and young son Jack. The Moore's own land, so do not struggle as much as some of their neighbor's during the Depression, but still, like it is for everyone, times are not easy. Albert works in the coal mines, a fate that he doesn't want to have happen to his son. Leta cooks and cleans and takes care of her family, sometimes doing without for herself to make sure her children want for nothing. The children help out with day to day chores, but live a rather sheltered life at home, not knowing how bad it is for some of their own neighbors during this time.
One summer evening, Tess witnesses a woman throw a baby into the family well. No one believes Tess, thinking the event is a result of her overactive imagination, until the next day when a dead baby is pulled from the well. What transpires from this event is an amazing journey for the entire family, as they come to terms with their changing views of their own lives and the changing world around them. The two girls find themselves most at odds with their changing perspectives on the world. Tess comes to terms with the fact that the world is not necessarily always a perfect place. Virgie begins to question her role as a woman, as the event makes her wonder what it would take for a mother to want to kill a child, and whether she wants her "self" tied down to a child or family.
The story is told from the first-person perspective of each member of the family, with each chapter being broken into segments from each person's point of view. This gives an interesting insight into the growth of not only each character, but in their own interactions with their family. Phillips easily writes in the local dialect without overwriting the accents and local colloquialisms that can so easily happen when an author tries to mimic a speech pattern from an area. She tells her story fluidly, and while some of the aside stories seem to veer a little too far from the main flow of the story, overall, she wraps the book up nicely, not leaving the reader feel like they've missed out on anything in the story.
I am very happy to have read The Well and the Mine. I love how Phillips adds more and more layers to her story, yet never makes it feel like she is adding too much. The story unfolds at a perfect pace, witnessed more through the development and growth of the characters rather than by the actual events in the story. It's a lovely coming of age story, not only for each individual member of the family, but also the family as a whole.