Cover image for Southern discomfort : a memoir
Title:
Southern discomfort : a memoir
ISBN:
9781501167942
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Touchstone hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Touchstone, 2018.

©2018
Physical Description:
296 pages ; 22 cm
Summary:
"A coming-of-age memoir set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a girl growing up in a violent, chaotic home and the black nanny who gave her the courage to rebel against the cultural, racial, and sexual rules that defined her identity"-- Provided by publisher.
Personal Subject:
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Status
Searching...
Book 927.8 Clark
Searching...
Searching...
Book 927.8 Clark
Searching...
Searching...
Book 927.8 Clark
Searching...
Searching...
Book 927.8 Clark
Searching...
Searching...
Book 927.8 Clark
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

For readers of beloved memoirs like Educated and The Glass Castle , a riveting and profoundly moving memoir set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path--the black nanny who cared for her.

Tena Clark was born in 1953 in a tiny Mississippi town close to the Alabama border, where the legacy of slavery and racial injustice still permeated every aspect of life. On the outside, Tena's childhood looked like a fairytale. Her father was one of the richest men in the state; her mother was a regal beauty. The family lived on a sprawling farm and had the only swimming pool in town; Tena was given her first car--a royal blue Camaro--at twelve.

But behind closed doors, Tena's life was deeply lonely, and chaotic. By the time she was three, her parents' marriage had dissolved into a swamp of alcohol, rampant infidelity, and guns. Adding to the turmoil, Tena understood from a very young age that she was different from her three older sisters, all of whom had been beauty queens and majorettes. Tena knew she didn't want to be a majorette--she wanted to marry one.

On Tena's tenth birthday, her mother, emboldened by alcoholism and enraged by her husband's incessant cheating, walked out for good, instantly becoming an outcast in society. Tena was left in the care of her black nanny, Virgie, who became Tena's surrogate mother and confidante--even though she was raising nine of her own children and was not allowed to eat from the family's plates or use their bathroom. It was Virgie's acceptance and unconditional love that gave Tena the courage to stand up to her domineering father, the faith to believe in her mother's love, and the strength to be her true self.

Combining the spirit of poignant coming-of-age memoirs such as The Glass Castle and vivid, evocative Southern fiction like Fried Green Tomatoes, Southern Discomfort is about the people and places that shape who we are--and is destined to become a new classic.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Clark paints a raw and deeply honest picture of her childhood in 1950s and '60s Mississippi. Clark, who is white, writes movingly of her black maid and stand-in mother, Virgie, who was not allowed to eat in her kitchen or white restaurants; of her mother's forced stay at a barbaric mental hospital, at the insistence of her father; of her father's casual and continued cruelty toward her sister, Toni (he hit her when she was a child and insulted her weight gain as an adult); and, ultimately, of the forces that helped Clark to leave her hometown for the Univ. of Southern Mississippi to pursue a career in music and the short-lived relationship that resulted in her daughter, Cody. What Clark shows so beautifully is that the people she discusses, as unredeemable as they may at first seem, are much more complex: her father, never one to shy away from using racial epithets, secretly helped build the local black church; her alcoholic mother, trying to deal with her husband's many affairs, eventually stood up to him; and Clark herself realized at the age of six that she was gay, but she still dressed up like a conventional Southern belle. Clark's narrative draws the reader in to a wonderful story of the South going from old to new. Agent: Brettne Bloom, Book Group. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Clark's parents were the first divorced couple she knew in her Mississippi hometown. Even then, as a preteen in the 1960s, she knew her mother had her reasons for leaving: she had nearly killed Clark's father and herself over his constant philandering. Clark's child's-eye view of her parents and her complicated, very different relationships with each of them are her dramatic memoir's focus. Her father was a self-made man with business ties to the Klan, and her willful, statuesque mother dreamed of being a songwriter a dream realized by Clark herself, now a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer. Undercurrents in her parents' near-constant drama are the abiding motherly love Clark received from her family's black maid, Virgie; her early realization that she was gay; and the tensions of a community wrestling with the fight for civil rights. Clark's observations of startling racial cruelty (and use of the n-word) as well as her own shame for unknowingly railing against that cruelty at the expense of the very people she wanted to uplift will provoke thought and discussion.--Annie Bostrom Copyright 2018 Booklist


Excerpts

Excerpts

Southern Discomfort Prologue Where I grew up, girls like me knew our place. We were expected to smile politely and keep our white-gloved hands folded neatly in our laps when we sat in church. We spoke only when spoken to. We said: "Yes, sir," and "No, thank you, ma'am," and "Why yes, some sweet tea would be just fine." Back talk was not an option. We did not ask: "Why?" We did not say: "That doesn't seem fair." We were expected to wear stiff, pressed dresses even under the blazing Mississippi sun, and to have perfectly curled hair and lightly powdered faces in the drenching humidity. As we grew up, we understood that stepping off the prescribed path in any way meant risking it all, and probably losing. Where I'm from, men like my father--rich, Cadillac-driving, Klan-sympathizing men--made the money. Women like my mother--beautiful, charming, educated only in how to entertain--ran the houses. If these women had any dreams beyond tending to their husbands, babies, and barbeques, they kept those thoughts to themselves. Black maids, like the two women who tended to me--first, Viola; then Virgie--raised the white children they cared for but were not allowed to sit at the family table, drink from the family's cups, or ride in the front seat of their cars. Black men and children were still called "boy," as in "What are you starin' at, boy?" And "nigger," as in, "I'm gonna need a few more niggers to pick my pecans this year." If you recoiled from the word, if it made your stomach clench and your insides boil, you were considered a "nigger lover," a dangerous insult. And if word of your sympathies spread, your family feared waking in the middle of the night to a burning cross on the lawn, or a brick thrown through the dining room window during supper. If your glamorous, tortured wife became an alcoholic, like my mother did, you sent her away to the state mental hospital in a straitjacket to dry out. If your husband was a notorious skirt-chaser, like my father was, you might pull your .38 Colt out at the dinner table and chase him around the house, threatening to kill him right then and there, but only after your dinner guests had left for the evening. And if you were a lesbian, before you even knew there was a word for the feelings you had had for as long as you could remember, you suppressed this fundamental part of yourself for as long as you possibly could. You lived a lie. You kissed boys and wore their fraternity pins, curled your hair, entered beauty pageants, joined a sorority. You and your friends talked about wedding cakes, honeymoons, and how many babies you wanted, just like you were supposed to. Because that's what good girls did. Appearances mattered above all. "That's just the way it is" and "Let it be" were common refrains. *  *  * Growing up in Waynesboro, Mississippi, in the heart of the Jim Crow Deep South, I never thought there was any other way than the way it had always been. No one I knew ever ventured farther north than Memphis or maybe Nashville, and that was just fine with them. My roots ran deep into the red earth; the land felt as much a part of me as my limbs, my heart. I hated it with a fury. I loved it with an all-consuming passion. This is the great paradox of the South. It's a savage place, a complicated place, and yet it still burrows into you, like the fangs of one of the water moccasins I used to hunt as a young girl down on the Chickasawhay River behind our farm. There's venom in the soil. But there's an alluring beauty in it as well. For a time, I assumed I had no choice but to stay on the straight and narrow path that had been laid out for me since birth. I'd wear the pressed dresses, the curled hair, the pin. I'd hold my tongue. I'd mind my manners. I'd play the clarinet and the piano even though I longed to play the drums. I'd marry a man exactly like my father, even though I was attracted to girls from the time I was four or five, when I first laid eyes upon a majorette in her green sequined leotard and white tassled boots. I'd be a charming and gracious hostess. I'd have the children, the impeccable house. Maybe I'd even have the black maid to raise my children and a staff of black men to pick the pecans and cut the lawn. I'd pass out finger sandwiches and pour sweet tea. And the cycle would continue. Or maybe I'd find out I was stronger than I thought I was. And the cycle--at least for me--would end. Excerpted from Southern Discomfort: A Memoir by Tena Clark All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.