Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
When I saw this advertised in a catalog I got very excited. A novel set in Gee's Bend, I couldn't wait to read it. I wish I could say I liked it.
When I started Leaving Gee's Bend, I had high hopes. My initial thoughts the Southern dialect is good and I liked 10 yr old Ludelphia. Lu,with only one working eye but still took to quilting. I was ready to follow Lu on a great adventure. I was ready to listen as Lu talked about the quilt she was making her mother and the stories that came with each stitch.
Lu's mom is sick. She thinks the only way to save her it to get a doctor. This means crossing the river and leaving Gee's Bend for the first time. When Leaving Gee's Bend begins Lu's mom already has a hard cough. A few pages in she's too sick to get out of bed.
I thought the mom getting sick early would lead to Lu leaving Gee's Bend earlier, meaning more adventure. Lu's mom took to the bed around page 24, Lu didn't leave until page 74. That may seem like a small amount of time but nothing happened between those pages. After awhile I was like leave already, Lu. ( you know a book isn't going well when you start screaming at it)
While I was impatiently waiting for Lu to leave, I was able to put my finger on a large part of the story, that was missing for me. The author never made me feel like I was in Gee's Bend. I have no idea what Gee's Bend would look or feel like. Though I think its the author's job to place me there. Gee's Bend, Al. is famous for it's quilting. A book set there I expected it to be more visual. Leaving Gee's Bend is clearly a southern tale with passage like this
"Ain't noplace in Gee's Bend you can't get to by setting one foot after another in to that orange dirt that likes to settle right between your toes. I reckon the hard part is how once you're in Gee's Bend, it ain't all that easy to get out."
Generally Southern is not specifically Gee's Bend. When Lu finally crosses to the river she runs into Mrs. Cobb. Her husband owns much of the land over at Gee's Bend. Many of the families are sharecroppers. Mrs. Cobb is a little unhinged since her husband died.
I was very disappointed with Leaving Gee Bend. Even after Lu left nothing seemed to happen. Lu ran into Mrs. Cobb, ran away than ran into Mrs. Nelson and Doc Nelson.
The doctor tells Lu what can be done for her mom on page 142. My first thought was that's it, second thought why are there 10 chapters left?
Mrs. Cobb blames her husband's death on the people of Gee's Bend. So she plans on collecting on all Gee's Bend's debts. Lu must get home to warn everyone Mrs. Cobb is coming.
One of my biggest problems with this storyline, the author never explains how unjust sharecropping was. It shouldn't be assumed that a 10 yr old would know.
"You're right about that son. It was mighty kind of Mr. Cobb to bring us that seed." Daddy gazed at the embers in the fireplace. "But there's something you got to always remember. Mr. Cobb's the boss man, and we ain't nothing but sharecroppers. Can't be bothering him with our troubles. Wouldn't want him thinking we can't do our work."
That's from early on in the novel. I had a problem with it when I read it but I let it got since this wasn't novel about sharecropping. But once Mrs. Cobb went to collect on all debts I had to revisit it.
If I knew nothing about sharecropping, after I read that passage I would think it was just people working the someone else's land for a fair price. I have a difficult time believing that a father would not tell his family the truth about it. Let's say the father is passive and too scared to speak out. What about the 16 yr old son? It's even harder for me to believe that a son wouldn't speak out against it.
"Please, Mrs Cobb. Me and my boy here, we'll work extra hard. I promise we'll make it up to you next planting season. Just give us some time, Mrs Cobb. All we need is time. When Mrs. Cobb spoke again, her voice was all business get me every single one of them chickens. Get the tools too. The ax, the shovel the pitchfork. And whatever feed you can find in the barn. "Please, Mrs. Cobb" I knew it was my daddy, but I ain't never heard him beg before. It didn't sound nothing like him.
That has been edited, though it still in context (pg 194). While I was reading it, I was pretty much done with it when Mrs. Cobb started taking the chickens. When Lu said it sounded like her daddy was begging I was really done.