Growing up in the American South during the 1960’s and 70’s was difficult enough, but try being the local Funeral Director’s daughter. In the new memoir The Undertakers Daughter by Kate Mayfield, a woman reflects on her life growing up not just in a small Southern town, but also the eerie quiet of a funeral home.
Mayfield describes her life in the close-minded town of Jubilee with both reverence and disgust. From her first few encounters with racism and child cruelty to her secret interracial trysts, the book is littered with passages about segregation and the wicked treatment of Mayfield’s African American neighbors. She describes how a wealthy self-made woman is verbally attacked by those in the community who want desperately to get hands on her money and home. Mayfield discusses alcoholism in a dry county, and not even her father is immune.
The book is much less about the funeral home life and more about life in the South. The book seems to jump from topic to topic quite suddenly, and often stories are drawn out more than appears necessary to get the point across. The true meat of this book lies in the experiences of a young woman and often the fact that she is an undertaker’s daughter seems more like a random detail of life that occasionally causes difficulties rather than a major factor in the memoir.
If you enjoyed the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett, this may be the memoir of your dreams. If you’re looking for something a bit more involved in about the funeral industry, I recommend looking elsewhere.
The Undertakers Daughter is available January 13, 2014 from Pocket Books.