Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

ByFrances Mayes

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anju rani
Those of us who've been captivated by Frances Mayes and her take on the world have been given a real gift. And if you're a Southerner, expect alarm-bells in your memory. I was counting the days til Under Magnolia was delivered to my Kindle, and I wasn't disappointed...just wish it was longer! Ms Mayes, if you read this, More Please.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
josh hager
This opens floodgates of memories for anyone raised in the south. It also explains why we are the way we are for those who did not have the good fortune to be born here.

You will laugh and cry...Excellent
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Some parts of this were really interesting, others felt like I was re-reading a book I'd read a dozen times. Really wish that we had learned more about her father, and that there hadn't been a huge jump of time from being a young married woman to present day situations.
Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen - The Tuscan Sun Cookbook :: I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld Book 38) :: Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family :: Death in Venice: And Seven Other Stories :: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life - At Least You're in Tuscany
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Some parts of this were really interesting, others felt like I was re-reading a book I'd read a dozen times. Really wish that we had learned more about her father, and that there hadn't been a huge jump of time from being a young married woman to present day situations.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Speaking as someone who adored Frances Mayes' Tuscan memoirs, I was very disappointed in her new book, "Under Magnolia."

While on a book tour stopover in Oxford, Mississippi (home of the University of Mississippi, William Faulkner, and ground zero for the Southern Gothic literary genre), Ms. Mayes takes a stroll through the grounds of the unoccupied Faulkner home and becomes inspired to leave her Tuscan and California lives behind and return to her roots in the southeastern US.

Ms. Mayes grew up in Fitzgerald, GA, which gives her an opportunity to revel in all the typical southern literary conventions. I, too, grew up in Georgia and I find Mayes' account of her childhood comes across less like a believable personal story and more like a mash-up of stereotypes.

If you've ever read a book in which the protagonist is a young girl growing up in the South, this is more of the same. Young Frances appears to be some combination of Frankie ("Member of the Wedding"), Scout ("To Kill a Mockingbird") with a side order of Flannery O'Connor. Even Mayes' mastery of descriptive prose, so fascinating in Tuscany, just comes across as a florid rehash of things said before (and better) by Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. In other words, the southern aspects are simply derivative. The personal aspects, notably her interactions with her parents, sisters and housekeeper actually make her seem cynical, selfish and simply unlikeable in the bargain.

To sum up, not only did I feel I had read better versions of this story before, it actually made me like the author significantly less than I had previously.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
matthew plank
Seems like everyone these days is compelled to write memoirs about their lives. However, some people lead much more interesting lives than others and that is the problem here. The author relates her coming of age story growing up as a pampered southern girl in the South in the 1950's. She portrays herself as a "renegade" liking the new music etc. of the young during that era contrary to what a southern girl should like. True, she has a dysfunctional family but I think there were a few others with those in that era. I think that the book was more beneficial and cathartic for the author than a benefit to the readers. I believe many of the people reading these reviews could write meatier memoirs about themselves. Read it for its good writing not for an exceptional life story.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
erika wright
While I had heard of Frances Mayes, particularly in connection with her book, Under the Tuscan Sun, I had never read any of her work before.

This year has been the year that I fell in love with memoirs, and we all know how much I love To Kill A Mockingbird (I am the girl with cats named Atticus and Scout, after all), so when I had the opportunity to read Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir, I was extremely excited.

However, don’t let the beautiful cover of Under Magnolia fool you. It is not a breezy remembrance of a gardenia-scented childhood spent in the deep south.

Rather, it is a painful story, that while filled with both love of books and hope, is fraught with abuse, turmoil, and tragedy.

Tracing her stolen childhood through her turbulent coming of age, Under Magnolia is an account of Frances Mayes’ first twenty-two years.

Documenting her parents’ violent marriage, her questioning and ultimate loss of faith, and romantic flings that cost her friendships, Under Magnolia is a solemn view of coming of age in the deep south during the sexual revolution and civil rights movement.

Overall, while Under Magnolia was intriguing, and I could, in ways, relate to Mayes’ love of books, travel, and culture, it was a dark and pensive look at life in a small Southern town. Also, readers should be aware that Under Magnolia did have a scattering of foul language, including multiple uses of the “f-bomb”. I would give Under Magnolia a “C+”.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I loved Under the Tuscan Sun, and while memoirs are often not my ‘read of choice’ I was curious to see how Mayes would use her talent for evoking scenes, scents and imagination in a story based in the South.

There is a curious commonality in the Southern heart, I never truly understood this until moving to Atlanta several years ago. A certain manner and approach to life, with a respect and love of the place and the people who came before that is apparent in many. And Mayes, although moving to both California and Tuscany was born in Georgia, and had that sense of the south instilled at a young age. A quick trip to Oxford Mississippi brought her face to face with that innate ‘southern girl’, and she uses that reconnection to present the story.

Dashes of personal anecdotes are neatly sprinkled through the story, mixing with and informing frequent quotes from Faulkner and some imaginative musings on his own life and family. With some family history, humor and even some less than pleasant moments mixed in, the story is laden with elements common to many, and ‘old hat’ to many from the south.

Evoking scents and scenes rife with Magnolia, the gentle waft from Wisteria and shade from Pecan trees, sitting on a porch late into the evening and chatting with neighbors passing by, the sense of the south is solid and present.

A lovely and engaging story that had a touch of a slow start but was soon all encompassing, the imagery, events and the author’s journey as old wounds are healed and settled all combine to leave you wanting a touch of the south for your very own.

I received an ARC copy of the title via Blogging for Books for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
With the exception of the preface, the first few and last chapters--this collection of memories was a disappointment. The Author has also written "Under the Tuscan Sun", and with it being one of my favorite movies, I was more than a little excited to delve into "Under Magnolia--A Southern Memoir". I was thoroughly enticed by the preface and first chapters -including her move to Hillsborough, North Carolina (and the pleasantries discovered within) from their former home in California, only to be let down with the snippets of ongoing sadness, angst, and lack of self-esteem. I would liked to have read more about "Chatwood" and its interesting former occupants and history. I could identify pressing a grape leaf taken from Author William Faulkner's forgotten and slightly run-down "Rowan Oak" home and watching my facial features change while staring into the fragile garden globe--but that's close to where the enjoyment ended. It has often been written that you can rid yourself of your demons by writing your inner most thoughts down on paper. Ms. Mayes has done that and more. From her dysfunctional family, complete with a carousing, surly, alcoholic/workaholic Father, and a forever debutante wanna-be Mother, who would rather drink to oblivion and shop to soothe her unhappy soul than encourage her youngest Daughter--the stories of life in Fitzgerald, Georgia and beyond just get darker and more morose. I very seldom have to push myself to finish reading a book--but I'm saddened to say, this was one of those rare occurrences. Perhaps others will enjoy her reminiscences, I did not. I wish Ms. Mayes happiness and success, not only in her writing, but in her life in warm, embracing Hillsborough.
Nancy Narma
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Frances Mayes’ Under Magnolia is the portrait of the artist/writer as a young woman, but first a child in the heat (both literal and figurative) of Fitzgerald, Georgia.

The title, obviously a takeoff on her best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun, roots the memoir in the powerful landscape of a chaotic but loving family. Her life flows deep and wide from the twin streams of Garbert and Frankye, parents who twisted the love of their youth into a tug of war, like the Fire & Ice on her mother’s vanity.

A strong-willed child, the author described a defining moment with her unpredictable father: “Did you hear what I said?” He crumples the paper in his lap. When he’s mad he has no lips. “Go away,” he shouts, “You’re driving me crazy.”

“I stand still. The crystal drops hang for a long moment in the air. Then, as if from far in the future, some sure instinct pulls me. I turn on him the hard spurt.”

His hands spread in the air, paper dissolving on his chest. The glass falling . . . The bull eyes, the chair turned over.”

“I drop the hose and it snakes back and forth between us, wild now with such a good idea. He lunges for my shoulder. I dangle from his hands like a puppet unstrung. I rattle and rattle.”

Though steeped in conflict, Mayes’ memoir is planted in the warm, moist sod of the South, stuffed with hyacinth bulbs and recipes for peach parfait and macaroon date pie. With sharp, sensory language, the author gently leads her readers from the rooks and creeks of southern Georgia into the larger world only to re-discover the lure of her home all over again.

A gifted poet, she has words for writers of every stripe: “But what one finds in the enterprise of writing is that there is no bottom. Only a contraction into the rhythmic, blood-pumping heart of the past and sometimes an expansion out of it.” And again: “In writing a life, you search for the white pebbles you didn’t know you dropped to define your way.”

Knowing Frances Mayes only through her publications about Tuscany, I was happy to find the origins of her Georgia-inflected accent in this entrancing memoir.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
c c carlquist
Frances Mayes inspired my heart with Under the Tuscan Sun. When I saw that she was coming out with a book about returning to her roots in the South, I was excited to read it. She and her husband bought and restored an old house in North Carolina. The book did not go through that journey so much as her reconciling with her roots.

The book was not what I expected at all. It was melancholy, full of raw moments. It reminded me of Maya Angelou's autobiography. You get punched in the gut with pain and then you see redemption in it. It is psychologically fascinating to see where the woman who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun hailed from. It gives such understanding to what she traversed in life to arrive depressed and divorced at a villa in Tuscany.

This is the story of her growing up in the South with an extremely dysfunctional family. We follow Frances through the death of her father, grand father, and later her mother. Then we follow her to an all girl college. The things of the day were strange and fascinating. In one chapter she tells about how the college lined them up naked to check their posture. They were photographed as well. Of course, you know those photographs were stolen by a neighboring college for young men.

There is this this level that we can connect on when we share our stories in such an honest way. Frances is gifted at doing this. She draws you into her story by simply telling it. She doesn't try to cover anything up or moralize it. She simply tells us. It's powerful. We are free to glean from her hurt, embarrassment, and her joy what we will. We simply walk with her as she discovers the back story of what shaped her family. I think when we seek to understand people and where they hail from, it's easier to find forgiveness. We come to understand.

I truly enjoyed this book. The last few pages tore my heart out. After losing her mama, she tells us that she does not share the belief that she is in heaven. It is the same feeling that I had at the end of Eat, Pray, Love. All the beauty of the story and the searching seems to be void. After all of that, there is still no peace made with her maker. May her story continue on to reconcile the rest.

This book was graciously provided for review by Random House Publishers.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Frances Mayes of Tuscany fame was born in Fitsgerald, Georgia. She had a traditional southern upbringing, she was raised by Willie Mae the housekeeper who's husband looked after Frances' father, Garbert. Frances' mother Frankye was the typical southern belle, she ran the home while Garbert ran the local mill. They had a marriage that was fueled with dysfunction and alcoholism, along with depression.
This book covers Mayes' early years from about age 10 to her graduation and her first marriage.It concludes soon after Mayes first marriage.
This book is different from her other books about Tuscany, Under Magnolia is about Frances' early years. If you are a fan of Frances Mayes you should like Under Magnolia:A Southern Memoir.

-*The Publisher sent me a copy of this book without cost for me to provide an unbiased review of this book. All opinions are 100% my own.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
burak k k er i
Under Magnolia is a captivating book! Memoirs is one of my favorite genres to read because I feel transported back in time along with the writer to relive their journey with them. I was sad when this book ended and I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent reading it.
We travel back to Frances' roots and relive her younger years with an ill father and an alcoholic mother who doesn't seem quite know how to grow up. She knows her family is a bit different than others, and she is a stubborn willful person who won't stop until she reaches her own dreams and goals whether she realizes it at the time or not.
Frances overcame her difficult upbringing and knew she wanted more for herself than what the standards were set at the time. During her time if you could marry then you were set to go. Women amounting to anything on their own was practically unheard of in those times. Frances went on to show that no matter how many years went by, or what she did she lived her dreams. To see how wonderful of a writer she has became despite the difficult years is very inspirational, and just goes to show we all have to follow our own path.
I love the writing style and how the words just flow so easily. It was as if I was there walking alongside Frances in a time I can imagine. Very vivid details so nothing was too small, and just an all around wonderful trip! I am glad I was able to read this book! If you like memoir's then I recommend this to you.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book as a Blogging for Books reviewer in exchange for my unbiased review. All opinions expressed are solely my own.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Frances Mayes is a gifted writer. Her Italy stories flow like poems, and she is excellent at portraying scenes with her vivid imagery. The sticky South full of chirping cicadas, woodpeckers and aromatic magnolias all provide for a defined sense of place.

But this memoir is about her family living in Georgia of the 1940s and 1950s. While her family was well-off, the parents both had addiction problems. Frances learned early in life to not depend on a man to make her happy, even though that was expected of women in both North and South back then. I found the tone in this memoir reeking of loneliness and wanting to belong, to please.

I enjoy Southern literature even though I am a Northerner. Southern literature is typically full if imagery and a sense of belonging, and she does that part very well. I visited Oxford, MS ten years ago as I traveled the south, and enjoyed that part of the country. She was raised by her parents to dislike the "Yankees" and that attitude gets old fast. I don't hold this against Mayes as this is a memoir of her childhood, how she remembers her Georgia from a young girl/woman's perspective. While nothing too exciting happens in her early life, if you enjoy Southern places in literature, this isn't a bad start. She luckily was a strong-enough woman early on not to repeat the dysfunction of her own parents. And perhaps her early childhood made her appreciate the beauty around her, which comes out in her Tuscanny-inspired writing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kara lee
In her "Southern Memoir" Frances Mayes has undeniably hit her stride as an accomplished author. I jumped at the opportunity to receive an Advanced Reader's Copy, as I have read most of her earlier works, including the entire Tuscany series. I own Mayes' Tuscan cookbook and love to peruse the pages of beautiful photographs and delicious recipes. I associate her with an adventurous spirit, an appreciator or fine living, cooking and travel.

Until reading this memoir, I didn't know that Mayes' southern origins had uprooted her from the Bay Area where she spent most of her adult life. In the memoir I expected a little more of her current experience in the south - observations on returning after having lived in the forward-thinking Bay Area for decades; I suspect that may be the subject for a future book. "Under Magnolia" covers Frances' early years from about age 10 to her graduation from college and first marriage.

Maye's memoir is an unflinching retelling of her troubled family, a tyrannical alcoholic father who died of cancer at age 42, leaving her helpless mother dependent on others to support the family. Her mother, Frankye, a pretentious southern belle who still thought she was the belle of the ball, had alcoholic tendencies and could be brutally critical of her impressionable young daughter. Mayes' older sisters were already out of the picture, away at college and married soon thereafter. Frances couldn't have been an easy child to rear, headstrong and opinionated. She writes frequently about her genesis as a writer, reading hundreds of books, underlining passages, saving lists of good words and quotes - a habit that would establish her writing career.

Nonetheless, she survived childhood, high school and college in a turbulent time in the south, and went on to marry, move to the Bay Area, teach for many years at a San Francisco university, and become a best selling author. I already knew the success story, but what most enthralled me about this memoir is the lyrical, poetic writing. I was curious about how a woman ~70 years old could have such clear memories of her youth, but I realize now that returning to a place can bring back a flood of suppressed memories. Mayes writes that "fragrances, wisps, fragments linger in an old place." There are family photographs sprinkled throughout the pages of the memoir, and she writes that "Images are the pegs holding down memory's billowing tent." She reflects on the process of writing a memoir: "...writing about these specific days long gone, I think I'll get to the bottom. Why are they remembered? But what one finds in the enterprise of writing is that there is no bottom. Only a contraction into the rhythmic, blood-pumping heart of the past and sometimes an expansion out of it." It seems that the more you delve into and write about the past, the more memories you are able to retrieve.

The memoir concludes soon after Maye's first marriage, but I sincerely hope that she's got another book or two in her, because I'm enthralled with the stories and the writing and want to read more about the next stages of her life. I may just have to go back and read this one and highlight a few more of my favorite passages.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shannon orton
`Under Magnolia' is a remembrance of a time and place. The setting is the south and it is a time that some can remember of Toni perms and `Reader's Digest` and segregation.

Frances Mayes describes an age of memories as she grew up; parents who fought and drank too much, attic fans and books read. It is a childhood that she describes by recounting how miserable she was and how content. At one point she runs away from home and is gone all night, but nobody knew she was missing. Her sisters are older and she is left to cope with her father's death, a mother who is adrift in life and a struggle for money. Her years in college are explored and why she returns to the south.
She does expect the reader to be familiar with her best-selling Tuscany writings.

This is an excellent remembrance of a southern childhood - well described with all the poetic reminiscences of one who grew up there and knows its faults and its charm and allure.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
timothy rodgers
Frances quite a character, spunky, don't know when to keep quiet, headstrong, colorful, inquisitive, just being herself a true southerner right out of a book of yesteryear.
I found myself wondering why this book caught my attention? Not right away, but it made me feel I should continue reading. Discoveries of memories bombarded her and her mind, her land of birth, her early history which was pushed aside for awhile. Her description of things I fell in love with like, Dug up stone path leading nowhere, Fallen spring house cools no buttermilk, Handmade Hangar holds no coat, Fanny swept up the curls of horny yellow clippings looks like curls of old wax or Buzzard talons. Sayings like, "How do you talk without saying anything? It's an art," or "The girls shared a streak of DNA, a litany of running off at the mouth," or "My English was only as far as a lisp of bad words, said to the mirror." I ran across humorous parts, Special award "For Learning to Eat the Crust of Bread." Praise for the wrong things, showered with immense (if inappropriate) possibilities, or her mother telling her when she gets angry, "Marry a Hungarian peasant. The blood's all shot in this line. Parents to busy to notice the things she did, like driving a car at the age of 9yrs. old or running away overnight no one notice. Her connection with people from friends, or Willie Bell who works for the family, or Tat cursing (which I thought was humorous) because what Frances had said, "My grandmother would croak if she knew what I heard. I did not even let my lips form the words-felt that if they passed into sound I would be ruined. So much intensity from suicides, getting whipped or as they call it "switched," or mentioned Blue and Gray Park (named for the uniforms of both side, Confederate and Union. I learned they had Hook worm test in school, "eat china berries-worm will be driven out!" I like her description of her mother's skin color, "White as Wonder bread, my mother has vanishing creams." I could go on and on but it would be of interest if you read it for yourself. I was totally enthralled, I cannot find the right word but "enthralled" come close. Excellent read, I won this book on Goodreads, First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
destinee sutton
I struggle to find adequate words to describe this book. The visuals junked off the page and I felt the deliberate winding journey of the author without it feeling disjointed. To quote another reviewer, as they captured my reaction as well: This memoir is so different from her memoirs about Tuscany which I loved. Under Magnolia is all about Frances’ memories and she spins them quickly. It’s like a moving portrait of her past as she remembers and it’s very vivid and beautifully told; really very poetic. This memoir highlights Frances Mayes talents as a writer like no other!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
james rundquist
Having read a lot of Frances Mayes prior books, I looked forward to this book. I had forgotten though about her poetic style that seems even more involved than I recall. To me “a not poetic type” (too many technical manuals under my belt), this is a negative not a positive, as sometimes it gets in the way of understanding. However clearly since I keep coming back, not that big of a detractor, so don’t take that to heart. I think there was more at the beginning, then later in the book. When she is first experiencing going back to the south for a book tour, she gets real metaphorical. I get that, but like I said, poetry tests me.

In this book she tells where she is coming from, her roots and her hometown. She has decided after years of California living, that it’s time to go home and return to her southern roots. In doing so, she realized it was time to write this book.

In going home she uncovers all the old ghosts. This is not a travelog about moving to a new city (ala Under the Tuscan Sun), but more a revealing of the ghosts that have driven her, a recounting of her past. I’m sure her family is not pleased. To be honest though, no family would be pleased, even the “Leave it to Beaver” types and her family certainly was not one of those.

Since I read so many of her other books, I had formed a persona in my head that this doesn’t jive to. She struck me as the artsy type that had a privileged background full of supportive family. While I still think her upbringing was a bit more upper crust than mine, her family was far from supportive. I can recall a friend of mine, the youngest of 3, saying at one time, his parents were very hands off as he was growing up, essentially raising himself. In his case as well as the author’s, the parents had raised two children close in age and when the third came along, they were not prepared to do it again. Her parents also come across as somewhat narcissistic-exceedingly self involved and disappointed with their lot in life. Additionally there is all sorts of family dynamics. How many kids recall a trial where their Dad had taken a bullet intended for their grandfather. This is not an ordinary life.

It was an enjoyable read, though I did wince in some places. I have felt in the past that the author sometimes wields truth as a sword and there is some carnage. Though to be honest in this book I felt it was a bit less than some of the others, though her family might disagree. We all tend to sugar coat the deeds of the dead or people who no longer have a voice. She most certainly does not.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mary froseth
I really only know Frances Mayes as the heroin of Under the Tuscan Sun, a book much different from the film, by the way. Until now, at least. This particular memoir came out of a trip to Mississippi for a book reading with an extra day built in for some historical sightseeing. But, what happened to Frances was that she discovered her roots and re-evaluated where she wanted to be. In this case, she knew for sure that it was time to come home (to Georgia).

Frances Mayes was born and raised in Fitzgerald, Georgia as a proper Southern girl, raised by a caretaker named Willie Mae. Her young life was filled with parties, vacations, and a lot of love. Even so, there was turmoil in the home with alcoholism and strife between her parents. She was educated in 1950s Virgina, just out of reach of her family but emotionally tethered, nonetheless. She eventually made her way to California, to Italy, but her Southern roots were too strong and she found herself on another journey home. Her real home.

There's a simplicity in the way she remembers growing up in the 1950s, even with all of the racial turmoil of the time (not a huge focus in this memoir but present). She lived the way many well-off white people of the time did - somewhat unaffected by the struggles of others. Her father eventually died of cancer in his early 40s and life changed at home for her mother who now had to rely on the charity of others. She seems somehow meant for the writing world by a voracious reading habit. She made her way in the world away from Georgia but eventually found her way back home.

This was a new side of Frances that I enjoyed learning about and recommend this to people who are interested in that particular time period and in Frances's personal journey.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This was an enjoyable tale of the author's childhood in the American South. Her flair for descriptive writing is in evidence, and you can almost smell the sea air and taste the caramel cakes and grits souffle as you read. The story focuses on her relationships with various family members -- parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts -- and old family photos are included among the pages to help illustrate these characters. Highly recommended for fans of the author's previous works, and/or those of Southern living, cooking or gardening.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
amanda butler
I enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, so I selected her Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir from a recent Vine list. Unlike Mayes' Italian memoirs which tend to be more bright and upbeat and uplifting, Under Magnolia had a definite dark-side. Instead of olive oil and lemon trees and Italian wines and Etruscan ruins, her latest effort is filled with old money and high-drama, sprinkled with alcohol and seasoned with racism.

In Under Magnolia, Mayes recounts her childhood in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Her alcoholic parents continuously fought, with her father sometimes becoming violent. The youngest of three daughters, Frances was the oopsie-baby, coming 8 years after daughter number 2. With the exception of their black maid, Willie Bell, Mayes was left to her own devices. Her father was sickly and died while Mayes was still young, leaving her family at the mercy of her paternal-grandfather, Daddy Jack. Once she left for college, she never looked back. Under Magnolia takes the reader through her childhood, her college years, her first marriage and her move to California. But after she becomes a successful writer, a book tour takes her Oxford, Mississippi. When she first arrives, she panics and calls it "Tara Redux." But soon, the south is calling her back home. She and her husband buy an old house in North Carolina, and Mayes finds that there are many similarities to her restored villa in Tuscany. Living in the south again also helps Mayes to confront the ghosts from her childhood.

Mayes' writing fluctuates between poetry, observation, reflection and humor. I had to laugh at her description of college life in the late 1950s at an all-female college, Randolph-Macon College. "We were not gearing up for hippie times; we were still clutched in the last grasp of Queen Victoria. Although Betty Friedman must have been putting the finishing touches on The Feminine Mystique, not a word of that news, as far as I know, had leaked inside the redbrick wall that surrounded the campus." As a child, she was closest to maid Willie Bell. "My ally was Willie Bell. She had worked for us since before I was born. It was not a cozy, member-of-the-family, Aunt Jemima, Gone With the Wind, Mammy thing. I was not clasped to her soft bosom for darky lullabies. She was skinny, anyway, and she and I simply knew we were in it together." If I had one complaint about Under Magnolia, it is that Mayes sometimes includes too much description of things that I found unimportant. But the overall memoir shows that not only can you go home again, sometimes that's the only place to discover who you really are and from where you came. I think it's a lesson for all of us.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Under the Magnolia, A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes was an interesting read. I won this book on Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. I really enjoy memoirs, however, I find that even the best writers seem to drift off into their own thoughts that the reader just does not have enough information to understand. Mayes, a very good writer, does that in her memoir. At times, she slips into a stream of consciousness that this reader found somewhat comforting and confusing.
France Mayes does an excellent depiction of the southern life. Her work has several quotes I would like to share with you, but being an Advanced Reader’s Edition, I am not allowed to share them with you. The notes, at the back are worth your time, so do not miss them.
If you enjoy southern literature or a good memoir I would recommend this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jackie the librarian
I have not read that Frances' Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun," so her book, "Under Magnolia" is my first experience with the author's work. Her memoir recounts life with her dysfunctional family in Fitzgerald, Ga. during the 1950s. I'm familiar with the part of Georgia that Mayes speaks about, and she does an excellent job of capturing the setting and mood of the city of Fitzgerald, and area of (southern) Middle Georgia. The poetic, sometimes overly sweet prose, fit just right (since most southerns speak in such a way to mask ugly realities). It's a decent read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julie goguen
Early on in "Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir," we learn that for years, Frances Mayes would develop hives - in the same place where she got severe poison ivy when she was a junior bridesmaid at her sister's wedding (and during a time when her father was dying), whenever she traveled back to her childhood home. She was also reluctant to write about her youth, at least publicly, instead keeping notes in folders and working on other projects (such as books about her adulthood in Tuscany). At her daughter's and husband's insistence, however, she at last embarked on this project. As a child, her mother would admonish her to stop "plundering," that is, snooping and collecting other people's private information, but Mayes was insatiable in her quest to figure out what was going on around her. Here, she plunders her past, and it does not take a psychologist to figure out the source of her ailment as an adult when returning to her youthful roots.

Mayes was the daughter of a rather snobbish upper class Southern mother and a father who worked at his own father's mill. Both were unusually good looking, but had fierce tempers, often fueled by alcohol and much of the time, it seemed to the young Mayes that they only made each other miserable. While she admits to being the apple of her father's eye, she also mentions running away one night as a child, and returning home to discover that no one has missed her. Her upbringing is a mix of pampering and neglect. What little stability there was mostly came from her family's black housekeeper, Willie Bell, who puts up with her employers' volatility but eventually manages to escape North.

Mayes seeks refuge in books and later on, boys. She spends as much time as she can with "normal" friends from "normal" families. She admits to loving high school, being elected among other things, "prettiest eyes." Attending Randolph-Macon women's college, she finds herself in a setting with a myriad of rules and regulations, many of which become obsolete after the Pill is invented. By this time, her father has passed away, and her finances are controlled by her grandfather, Daddy Jack, who complains about expenses, but forbids the young Mayes to get a job or even apply for a scholarship. Such double binds are typical and occur repeatedly in Mayes' memoir. Finally, Mayes manages to escape her roots, but finds that one's past still shapes the present.

The writing in "Under Magnolia" is as vivid and as rich as the flowers that perfume Mayes' childhood home. Although I was born long after Mayes, I could relate to a childhood where kids were allowed to go out and explore in the natural world, having unsupervised adventures, either with their peers or on their own. It seems like that is now a vanishing part of youth, but here, the joys and sorrows of that kind of upbringing are clearly instrumental in the kind of writer (and person) that Mayes becomes. It's proof that children are often more resilient than are given credit for, and that creativity really can be strengthened by adversity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
heather young
I took my time reading Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. You see, one of my dearest, best Sister Friends died, and I needed a good, slow read. I needed something *real.* And that's what I got with this book.

For those of you familiar with Mayes' *Under The Tuscan Sun*, you're in for something different. Good and different. The author delivers a memoir that is rich in the good and the bad and the dysfunctional. Real life is touching and messy and a whole lot of learning. I think I loved this book, because I needed to read someone else's life. I needed to read about *her* world and not think about the depths of mine. But Mayes gave me a Good Read instead of a place for escape.

Under Magnolia is not Southern Gothic. It's Southern Real. And that's a whole lot of good right there. This book touched me unlike any other in a long, long time. That says it all.

Thank you, Ms. Mayes. You enriched my world when I really needed it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ellen grier
This memoir by Frances Mayes feels like a scrapbook: each word a picture. Her writing brings the South to life, and shows us how her early years made her the popular writer she is today. Her memories ring true to those of us who had less than perfect childhoods. As she says “we didn’t know “dysfunctional” but we lived it.” Yes, and she not only survived the chaos, but thrived in spite of it. It is a great book to for writers to read, her way of word painting helped me slow down and hear her voice, enjoy the stories, and make connections. Especially when she reminisced about food; which brought back memories of one of my grandmothers Sunday dinners and how her cooking was influenced by the South. Read this book on a hot humid summer day with a tall glass of sweet tea and enjoy the journey. Four stars.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
vince obrien
This was an interesting book about this author. I have been a fan of hers since I have seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. There were a few spots that were a bit confusing to me but all in all it was a good book that helped us to learn a little more about her. It was nice to hear about her traditional Southern upbringing. I have all of her books and now will be sure to go back and get those read since I enjoyed this one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lindsay hunter
During the early chapters of this book, I had the uncomfortable feeling of being a voyeur reading someone's diary - the kind that is kept under lock and key and hidden beneath the mattress. Then as I recognized that it was not the material in the book, but my response to it (after all, I hadn't picked a lock to get at the material - it was being freely offered) - I relaxed into an informative and intriguing sojourn into growing up 'Southern'.
Frances Mayes describes her inclination as a child to pick at the scabs of wounds, delaying their healing and perhaps causing scars. There is a lot of that going on as she describes her youth (not unlike a Tennessee Williams story) but , just as our very being gravitates towards wholeness, Mayes used her youthful adventures as a springboard for fulfilling her deep desires and purposes. Lyrical writing and vivid descriptions make this an impactful read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Having a university major in English literature, I should be able to explain why it is when I begin to read some authors, I am suddenly not reading but carried away to a magical land of flowing feelings and vivid images. Such an author is Frances Mayes. Under Magnolia, her Southern Memior is to take the journey with her. Such writing is like a lovely song that fills the senses and lingers. This feeling happens suddenly and is never planned--the startling realization that one is reading words beautifully put together, words that inspire and linger. Yes, I can smell the magnolias and the honeysuckle and feel the sense of place that Mayes writes of. What a delightful trip going with her on this journey back to her birthplace in the South. One of the best books I've read this year. Highly recommended. .
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I love memoirs and, living in Atlanta, I especially like those about the South. I was really disappointed in this one though. It was boring and it really seems to jump around with random memories. I kept trying to figure out what was so bad about her family life. No one's childhood was really perfect and her parents were a little strange but not enough to be interesting. She seems a bit on the spoiled side to me. I didn't see her wanting for terribly much and when things got bad she had her maid to comfort her. I kept wanting to feel sorry for her but I never could really find a reason.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
For those readers, such as myself, who have read her well known Tuscan memoirs will be surprised at her new book. This is a dark memoir unlike the happy-go-lucky Frances that we had come to know and love in "Under the Tuscan Sun". The author reminiscences about her unhappy and painful childhood in Fitzgerald, a small town in south Georgia. She lived with her two alcoholic tormented parents and a strict bigoted grandfather who she refers to as "Daddy Jack" and her mother as simply "Frankye". She also reminiscences about their black cook/housekeeper, Willie Bell, but in a loving way who actually raised her and how much she missed her and her cooking when Willie Bell moved north to take a new job.

She then takes the reader on a journey of her college years in the sixties, her friends, boys that she dated and some of the riduculous rules of her first college in Virginia (even for the sixties some of their rules were bizarre) where she went for two years before moving to Florida for the last two years where she ends up meeting her first husband, Gary. The book abruptly ends when she finishes college and she and Gary move to California. In the very last section, we are briefly taken back to the present with Frances and her current husband Ed fevershly working on their land in North Carolina after moving there from California.

It's clear that even though Frances had a painful childhood, she still yearned to go back to her Southern roots. Not to take away from her wonderful gift of smooth and at times poetic writing, I found most of this memoir very dark and depressing and just not enjoyable to read. Definitely not what I expected.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
The audiobook reading was humdrum and uninspiring, even though the subject matter could be interesting. Mayes seems to be wearing rose colored glasses as she breezes through her past. Frances omits much of the information in her quest for depicting truly Southern characters. To listen to Frances, she grew up in an uncaring home with two older parents bored with children and with life so much that booze became the cure-all. Frances seems like the head strong Isabelle McAllister in Calling Me Home, both believe what they do is the Gospel and neither seems to honor their parents. At the ending of this story, my journey into Southern novels needs a rest.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I kept reading hoping to find her writing as fascinating as the Italian one, but no such luck. It never got better. I finally gave up half way through and put it away. Parts were good, but more was just dull.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kimberly waite
As a Southerner, I found found "Under Magnolia" to be an excellent depiction of life in the deep South. Angst and hangups are the norm here. As always, Frances gets a bit carried away with her descriptive prose; however, she is an excellent writer who has survived the Southern angst. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
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