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The Undertaker's Daughter av Kate Mayfield

The Undertaker's Daughter (utgåvan 2015)

av Kate Mayfield (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
13614151,475 (3.76)2
"Kate Mayfield's first foray into nonfiction is a vivid Southern memoir that reads like a novel, about growing up in Jubilee, Kentucky as the daughter of a charismatic but troubled small-town undertaker--imagine Mad Men's Sally Draper growing up in the world of The Help"--
Titel:The Undertaker's Daughter
Författare:Kate Mayfield (Författare)
Info:Gallery Books (2015), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages


The Undertaker's Daughter av Kate Mayfield



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A well-written memoir about the author's relationship with her father and her experience of life in a funeral home in a segregated southern town. Even though there's no plot arc -- it's not fiction -- there is a narrative feel to the story as the author ages. She develops several story arcs -- living with her mentally unstable sister, the evolution of the funeral business, the role of Miss Agnes, her own social life, her parents' marriage, etc -- as if it was a novel. It is a good example of a memoir that presents a "normal" childhood (not sensational) in a unique setting with good writing. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Dec 3, 2017 |
This intimate autobiographical portrait of not just of a girl who lives above the funeral home her father Frank Mayfield runs, but of a broken family and a time and place in history, the 1960's and 1970's when things begin to change in the South, even if the views are harder to change. In 1959, Frank Mayfield moved his family, wife Lily Tate, son Thomas the peacemaker, daughter Evelyn an undiagnosed manic depressive, and second daughter Kate, to Jubilee, Kentucky from the mountains of Western Kentucky to the border of Tennessee. He finds a large house to set up his business on the bottom floors and his home on the second and third floors. He installs multiple phones so he does not miss a single death. The words, "There is a body", invoke a bit of dread in the family, especially Lily Tate who may have planned a bridge club luncheon, that she's using to find a place in society, and then have to cancel it. For the children, it means going upstairs and being quiet and not seen. But that does not mean that Kate does not sneak looks over the banister to see the way her father quietly orchestrates a funeral with only a mere look or small lift of the hands to his employees or the mourners. Frank is like a maestro in his work.

The first trouble comes when two men from the oldest families in the county come to visit him and ask why he has not bought too many concrete vaults (which surrounds the casket in the earth) from them. He says they leak and will not sell people a shoddy product. There is another white funeral home in town and they have already sent business his way and now they have made it a mission of theirs to shut Frank down. It is the Southern good-'ol-boys network and it is quite effective. Even though Frank has a young man who lives in the county to help bring in business from that area.

Help comes in a surprising place. There were no ambulances back then. If you could not get yourself to the hospital, you called the funeral home to come and get you. Frank had a separate vehicle for that, and unlike his competition, does not charge for the service. One night, Miss Agnes, a spinster who lives in the largest and oldest house in town and owns the only fertilizer dealership in Kentucky, has hurt herself and calls Frank. The other funeral director has been sending patients roses to get their business, but all Frank can afford is red carnations, which happen to be Miss Agnes's favorite flower. Her story is incredible in how she was able to go from a wealthy family in town, until her father dies, leaving her in debt, to being very rich with her own business, a rarity in those times. She shuns those who turned their backs on her when her fortunes changed, so her and Frank are foes of the same people and she decides to help him. Miss Agnes is a delightfully eccentric Southern Woman who does things her own way.

Kate's mother gives birth to another child, a girl named Jemma. Her mother is the strict disciplinarian, something she picked up from her own harsh childhood. Her father, Kate would find, is a flawed man. He has a scar on his stomach from the World War II, where he almost died. It was his brother's dream to open up a funeral home, but he died during the war. The torments from the war haunt him and he becomes a man who is not always a good husband or father.

There is also the specter of race. Belle, their black housekeeper, helps raise the kids and Kate wonders why it is OK to sit in Belle's lap at home, but she cannot sit next to her in a theater. When black students begin to finally arrive in her middle school, she goes out with one for a while. When both races find out, she is threatened by a group of black girls after school, and her parents who tell her it could end her father's business, which it would. Oddly, Frank sometimes helps the only colored funeral director with embalming or with ordering things if need be, but he still does not seem to think of them as being equal.

While this book offers a glimpse inside of the old way funeral homes worked, it is through the eyes of a child, who basically never goes into the embalming room or sees but glimpses of the pageantry of the funerals. This book looks at a family that is far from perfect, at a dangerous time in the South, a different world all on its own, and small town politics and prejudices. Kate loves her family, but comes to realize that she is not meant to stay in Jubilee, but is meant for a wider world in which to explore life. There are many who help her see this, even if her family cannot.

She threw out most of the deviled eggs that night. What a mess they looked in the garbage: a mound of shiny egg whites smeared with pale yellow yolks all smashed together, the whole lot spattered with deep red paprika, as if they’d been murdered.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 2)

My mother thought she was crazy. What she really meant was that Totty was different. She was different because she …was from the North. ‘Somewhere in Michigan’, my mother said, as if it were near the Arctic.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 27-8)

I’d become familiar with all of her church frocks; now she was draped in her new widow’s black. I felt bad for her. Sixty years, that’s’ a long time, I thought, practically forever. She’s going to miss him terribly. I began to back away, but when she raised her hands, I knew a prayer was coming and I couldn’t resist….’O dear Lord’, she whispered, ‘I just want to thank you today. Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to finally put this bastard in the ground.’
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 38)

The South is like a lusty woman who stands at the mirror and admires her own astounding beauty, a beauty that after all these years only seems to intensify with age. Even though her face has changed, she has never lost her melancholy charm.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 369)

Most of the women in our town wore beauty-parlor hair, the kind that didn’t move in a stiff breeze because it was teased and sprayed with enough hairspray to kill a cat. No one touched my mother’s hair except Mildred the beautician. I didn’t dare and I never saw my father go near it.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 45-6)

Belle couldn’t go with me to the movies because we’d be separated after we entered. She would be required to sit upstairs in the balcony, and I would sit downstairs. I thought this was a strange, strange rule. I couldn’t understand why I could sit on her lap at home and not sit beside her in public. I wondered how it was that she could feed me and clothe me, yet be made to separate from me when we walked into the cinema.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 54)

We had an awful lot of God in our town. Jubilee had more churches than it knew what to do with. They came in every variety imaginable, from a one-room house, where the Holy Rollers spoke in tongues and fainted regularly, to the large, money-drenched building of the First Baptist Church, our church, a half a block from the funeral home.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 128)

The preacher told me privately that Mr. Sheridan would be punished in hell [for killing his two kids, wife, and himself]. But I said nothing to that, because I saw no God in the scene before me, no heaven, no hell. Prayers would not have prevented this tragedy. When the Sheridans were finally buried, for it seemed their short time under our roof was elongated somehow, I no longer prayed for bad things not to happen. I knew they would.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 157-8)

[On vacation] We went to a different restaurant every night and ordered exotic foods, such as lobster and broccoli and fruit drinks with paper umbrellas.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 176)

Occasionally I tapped out a Motown tune on the organ downstairs but it sounded wrong in every possible way; hymns, possibly Rodgers and Hammerstein, but never Motown on the Hammond.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 209)

In high school Emily had been a beauty queen, a drum majorette, Miss Congeniality, an accomplished musician, and all this without an ounce of self-consciousness. She was in college now, a sorority girl studying for her master’s in education. Tall, thin, and blond, she possessed the manners and grace of a Tennessee Williams character having a good day, and we loved her.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 230)

The seventies crept up on Jubilee and settled like a canker sore. Was it possible to hate an entire decade based on a dearth of natural fibers?
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 255)

Do you think that creativity must be fueled by alcohol or drugs?... It doesn’t work like that. People think it does. It’s tricky because at first you’ll think you have the tiger by the tail. But it will tire you out. You’ll lose and then those substances will kill creativity stone dead. Kill it, kill it, kill it.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 281)

Cigarette-smoking, alcoholic, adulterous, and now leash-holding Big Daddy—Tennessee Williams made a fortune off men like my father.
--Kate Mayfield (The Undertaker’s Daughter p 287) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Jul 5, 2017 |
Her father is a small town undertaker in Kentucky. The family lives above the funeral home. She relates her growing up experiences in the south in the 50s and 60s with her mother, three other siblings and her father who is a WWII vet. Very good. ( )
  LivelyLady | Mar 2, 2017 |
The Undertaker's Daughter seems to be another one of those books that I just didn't quite get, as it seems that my opinion is greatly different from that of everybody else. At the time of writing my review, the book has a solid 4-star average, with nearly everybody making glowing comments on the lovely writing style, the depth of the characters, the riveting plot, and how difficult it was to put this book down. It's been awhile since I felt so differently from the majority of people. To put it simply, I really did not enjoy this one.

Kate Mayfield was raised by an undertaker and took part in the day-to-day activities of the funeral home. In her memoir, she reflects on coming of age in 1960's Kentucky, a time when it was still racially segregated and women were not valued. The book has been compared to The Help, which I loved -- but aside from the setting, I can't find any similarities.

Our narrator, who strangely never refers to herself by name within the book, is often offensive in her descriptions of her family, particularly her sister Evelyn. Evelyn is branded as the villain from the very beginning, while Mayfield's other siblings are practically saints. She drops hints throughout (and finally reveals at the end) that Evelyn is mentally ill, but there is no compassion or understanding directed at her. At one point, Mayfield states:

Many days the daunting task of waking Evelyn in the morning fell to me. Oh, what a joyous task it was. Even in her sleep my sister looked angry, unsettled. It was the only time I could comfortably watch her without her snapping, "What are you looking at?"

My first question is to why the author feels the need to watch her sister so often, particularly while she's sleeping. I know that I get a little cranky when people stare at me -- I think this is a common feeling, and I wonder why she's writing it as though it's strange. My second question relates to how she would feel if Evelyn had written a nasty memoir about her. Did she wonder how Evelyn would feel if she read this book? She's taken the story of her sister's untreated mental illness and written it as though Evelyn chose to behave this way. Has Evelyn now received proper treatment? Everybody's story is wrapped up at the end, but what became of Evelyn is still somewhat of a mystery.

The plot is often unfocused, as Mayfield begins telling one story only to get sidetracked by some minor happening. She leaves out many key details, often including her age, making the timeline extremely confusing. The way she writes herself as a young child is the same as she writes herself as a teenager and also a young adult. Her language and thoughts never evolve to give the reader a sense that she's getting older, unless you count her developing romantic feelings. The writing overall is clumsy, as evidenced in the following passages:

Grabbing hold of a tuft of hair, she furiously teased it with her special teasing comb that if I touched I died.
The new magnet to his groin worked in one of the church's offices.

The thing that most frustrates me in a memoir is an average person believing they've lived an exceptional life. In the case of The Undertaker's Daughter, I felt like nothing particularly exceptional happened to our narrator. Or perhaps it did and she didn't communicate it well. Her father was an undertaker, yes, but she reveals that there were multiple undertakers in her town, as I'm sure was common in this time period. Her father was a close friend of Miss Agnes, the wealthiest woman in town, but this is hardly relevant to the story. The most that happens is her father inheriting a mansion and having some legal trouble with Miss Agnes' family. Mayfield reveals being deeply attracted to multiple African American boys in her class, going so far as to date them in a time of segregation. This was possibly the most interesting thing that happened in the book, and still it felt like it was just there so that Mayfield could feel good about herself for being ahead of the times.

It took me six days to read the first 150 or so pages, and I skimmed the remainder of the book. It didn't catch my attention whatsoever, and I felt that large chunks needed to be removed or heavily edited. Again, as I said at the beginning of my review, my feelings are the polar opposite of most of what I've seen about this book, so maybe I'm just missing something. You might really enjoy it, as many people have.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

[find more reviews at the bibliophagist] ( )
  Sara.Newhouse | Feb 11, 2016 |
The Undertaker's Daughter
by Kate Mayfield

I want to thank NetGalley and Gallery Books for an advance reader copy of this memoir.

The Mayfield family lived in a funeral home in a small town in Kentucky in the 1960s. Father Mayfield was a likable man who easily made friends and poured his life into his funeral business. Precocious Kate adored her father and followed him around like a lost puppy. She wasn't close to her mother during her early years.

Kate's life was lonely as her peers were uncomfortable with someone living in a home that had dead bodies in the living room. She filled her days with learning the funeral business (except the mysterious embalming room). Her descriptions of the duties of a mortician are handled informatively and not in any way undignified or graphic. Father Mayfield answered her questions honestly and openly.

As she grew older, Kate became aware of a harsher crueler side to her father that conflicted with his "funeral face". She relates her family's struggles to survive emotional and financially.

The story is written well and easy to read. At times I asked myself why she thought she had it so bad compared to other kids her age. Every family has secrets of one kind or another.

She answered many of the questions I had about the funeral process. I particularly liked the memorials to a selection of "guests" that she inserted throughout her memoir.

I liked the book a lot. While not as riveting as classical coming of age fiction, this memoir sheds light on an unlikely topic and is worth the read!
( )
  Itzey | Jan 23, 2016 |
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"Kate Mayfield's first foray into nonfiction is a vivid Southern memoir that reads like a novel, about growing up in Jubilee, Kentucky as the daughter of a charismatic but troubled small-town undertaker--imagine Mad Men's Sally Draper growing up in the world of The Help"--

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