by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Even though I categorized it with memoirs, this book is more like a collection of essays or short stories per se; it doesn\’t really have a plotline or story arc. It\’s a deep reflection on the time Rawlings spent living on a farm at Cross Creek in central Florida, most of her neighbors being very poor and the majority of them black. It\’s very much about place, local culture and backwoods Florida cuisine- in fact there\’s an entire lengthy chapter just about food- I didn\’t know Rawlings was so ambitious in the kitchen (and proud of it!) I have a mind to grow okra once more just to fix it the way she describes.
Her writing is lovely, and of course I especially liked the parts about the weather and changing seasons, the local wildlife and flora. She describes keeping a garden, tending to fruit trees, going river boating or hunting with friends- and often as not she was glad to miss her shot, admiring the beauty of the animals instead- even though she also liked cooking up squirrels and quail and one time as an experiment shot a bunch of red-winged blackbirds and made a pie (before she knew they were a protected species). She describes the keeping of animals- her milk cow and an old mule, a succession of dogs; and dealing with the neighbors\’ cattle, half-wild hogs and hounds that roam onto the property at will. Most of all though, the book is about people, her hard-working poverty stricken neighbors and the various people she hires to take care of her house or work in her orange grove. Her attitude towards the black servants is sometimes deplorable- you can tell she tried hard to be kindly, often gave gifts and assistance to those around her, sent for the doctor when needed, etc. But the words she uses to describe them are offensive, and one incident in particular when her visiting brother became angry seeing how her home had been neglected by the servants when she was away and accosted them in the middle of the night- well, that really made me cringe. I also didn\’t like reading how she and a companion treated a sea turtle they encountered on the beach- although they were conscientious enough to leave half the clutch behind when taking turtle eggs to eat.
Aside from many colorful characters and interesting stories about the author\’s dealings with them, there\’s plenty about the raccoons and alligators, the deer and wild birds as well. I particularly admired how the author dealt with snakes- she wrote a whole chapter about snakes and deliberately went on a rattlesnake hunt with someone in order to make herself get over her fear of them. Many times she had to dispatch dangerous snakes found in the house; one time she cornered a snake and hit it first with a thick catalog and then with her own copy of The Yearling!
In spite of the discomfort some things in this book give me, it\’s one I\’m definitely keeping on my shelf to read again. It inspires me to look for more of her fiction, especially after reading about some of the real-life incidents and people who inspired her to write. Somewhat similar in tone to Out of Africa.
Rating: 3/5 368 pages, 1942