Monday, January 26, 2015

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Gallery Books
Author Website:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Kate Mayfield's childhood was magical but different than most children who grew up in the 1960s-70s. She lived with her parents and siblings in a small town where everyone knew everyone and what they did (or didn't) do. Her father's occupation set her apart from the usual routine of Southern life. He was one of the town's undertakers.

Chronicling her life from childhood unto adulthood, Kate revealed the history behind her father's choice to become an undertaker and the rituals her family observed whenever they "had a body." Living upstairs while a funeral was in process taught her how to be quiet and still, the odd mix of life and death apparent to her at an early age. As she came to terms with the process of running a funeral home through the lessons of her family, she discovered there was much more to learn about her father than simply being an undertaker.

Every once in a while, I like to step out of my horror or mystery genres to read Nonfiction. As of late, it's been memoirs or biographies that have caught my attention. This particular memoir intrigued me the moment I read the description at NetGalley. Despite the somber book cover, the author portrayed her childhood and the unusual atmosphere of her home with both childlike wonder and adult remembrance. At times the novel was light-hearted, filled with comical depictions of the sleepy town of Jubilee and its residents. There were also many instances were the darker side of life made its presence known, casting a sinister light on an otherwise happy-go-lucky family.

Kate Mayfield and her family relocated to Jubilee as her father brought his undertaking services to the town. First set within the 1960's, the town was divided along racial lines and mandated a strict code of conduct. Reputations were something to be protected at all costs while appearances were meant to be kept at a respectable level. That's a tall order for anyone, but was especially difficult for a child whose father was a friend to death. Throughout the pages of the book, the author gave insight into why her father chose to become an undertaker as well as the rituals surrounding the funerals that he orchestrated. I was given a front row seat to the show that was the Mayfield family, complete with its secrets, joys and moments of sadness. While names were changed to maintain the individual's privacy, I couldn't help but imagine the people with the way they were written in the novel. Little details down to the way the person wore their hair or how they ate their food helped to create each of the individuals vividly in my mind as I read along.

For me this book was a fairly quick read, but it had a sense of slowness about it that matched being set in the South. Much of the South had the same quality in nearly everything about it. From the way the people drew out their words to the lackadaisical way they enjoyed their days, it was all reflected within the pacing of the novel. That's not to say it remained that all the way through the book. During the moments when Kate slipped out of her room at night to see her friends or have a romantic moment with a boy, the excitement and fear of being caught became apparent in the author's choice of words. The mixture of Southern charm and growing up during a turbulent time made Kate's memoir more interesting as the reader could see the progression of change. Though the city was small in terms of population, the changes that swept the nation in the 1970's and later also visited Jubilee. These changes also drove the story forward, making me want to know how people reacted and what Kate's thoughts were on the matter.

All in all, this memoir was as entertaining as it was poignant. Many times I felt the author's words evoke emotions befitting the chapters I read. It became clear early in the book that author sought to understand her father by examining her childhood. She found much of the information she desired, but at a cost. One thing that stuck with me after finishing the book was the notion that no one knows another person completely. We all see a fragment of the person. Sometimes gathering other pieces shocks us because it's not what we expected to find - much like this memoir. If you're looking for an interesting coming-of-age story or a glimpse into the rarely-seen life of an undertaker's family, then this book should be on your TBR list!

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield is currently available at several online retailers and local bookstores. It can be purchased in several formats, including hardcover, paperback and Kindle (digital). The link below will bring up the book's page at Amazon.
The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

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