Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Last Resort (copy)

I was up early this morning to complete reading a new Mississippi memoir. I could easily use the sleep but I was compelled to finish it. My nails suffered and I sat on the edge of my seat anticipating the outcome. This book is good.
The story brings to mind The Help by Kathryn Stockett; although, it is a truer story of “the help” as seen through Norma’s life than the romanced version currently creating Oscar buzz.

We follow the life of Norma Watkins from child to 30-year-old adult. At the beginning of the book she moves to Allison’s Wells, an old family spa, while her father is away serving in the Pacific theatre of WWII. She, her mother and younger sister, Mary Elizabeth, have the run of the place taking the best rooms in the heated section of the hotel.

Mother is unhappy. Her husband elects to go to war rather than being selected. How can a married man with two young children just volunteer? Many nights she stays up later than she should and drinks and smokes more than she should according to Norma. She is very unhappy even though Norma can catch her constantly laughing.

When they move to Allison’s Wells, they bring with them Marie. Norma considers Marie her true mom. Latte colored Marie does everything for the family except cook. She can boil carrots, but that hardly makes a meal.

After a year at Allison’s, Marie is suspiciously gone. Norma sneaks under tables and behind doors to hear the gossip. Why would Marie leave her and Mary Elizabeth? Why would she not say goodbye? All she gets from the adults is a hushed story involving the bar tender, Bee-Bee.

Why do I love this book and Norma’s voice? The book demonstrates the subtle stories told that form our opinion of race. For example, at the age of 12, Norma is referred to as Miss. Norma. No matter how many times she tells them to stop, “the help” continues the missus nomenclature.

I love Norma’s voice because she reminds me of the fact that women really did not have that many career options. That generation was doomed to secretary, bank teller, teacher, nurse, librarian, or housewife. My skull would explode if I thought I could not at least try something else. Funny, Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal System believed librarians should all be men!

Read The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure by Norma Watkins. Lee Smith says, “This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read.”