* Prices may differ from that shown
Tess Moore loves to sit outside by her well imagining that a magical world inhabited by fish and mermaids thrives in the water below, nobody believes her when she says that she saw a woman throw a baby into the well but the next day a blanket is fished out of the water followed by the body of a young boy. The only clue as to who threw the baby into the well is that she must have been a big woman who was strong enough to lift the cover but Tess and her sister Virgie are determined to discover who the babies mother is so they can learn the child's name..
Tess lives with her teenage sister Virgie, younger brother Jack and parents Albert and Leta on a small farm in the town of Carbon Hill in Alabama. Things are hard for the family and her father Albert works down the mine to keep the family afloat while her mother works from dawn till dusk cooking and cleaning. The family is exceptionally close despite the strict rules that the parents have for their children
The Mine and The Well is set in the deep south of the USA during the depression of the early 20th century and when Tess and Virgie are out trying to solve the mystery of who the baby belonged to we get to explore the community in which they live. Although life is hard for their family it is much harder for those around them and the children's eyes are opened to the levels of poverty and hardship surrounding them with children who have to work harder than the adults and others who have barely enough food to survive. Was the woman who threw the baby down the well a woman overburdened by caring for too many children or a desperate young girl who has hidden her pregnancy from everyone around her?
The community is dependent upon the coal mine where Albert works to survive which is a brutal environment where black and white men work side by side but society forbids them from mixing in the community where they live. Conditions down the mine are dangerous with men regularly injured and the bosses caring more about profits than people but the community is also terrified that the mine may close as despite the danger it is the only way men have to support their families. It is expected that girls will marry soon after they finish school but Virgie questions whether this is what she wants, is it possible that there is a future for her which does not involve spending her life caring for a brood of children and losing her own identity?
The Well and The Mine is told through the different voices of the members of Tess's family. I found this confusing at first but then liked this style of writing, each person may talk for a few paragraphs or for a few pages at a time but the main voice is that of Tess. The book is written in the language used in the deep south of the USA which makes the story feel far more real and believable The book is beautifully written with well drawn characters and a real lyrical feel to the descriptions of the lives of the characters and the community where they live.
I did really enjoy The Well and The Mine but it was not a perfect novel, the Moore family seems too perfect at times and remind me of the family in the TV series "Little House On The Prairie" where the characters have no flaws and the family never have any arguments or disagreements and always behave in a morally upright manner. The book also hints at the political climate of the time with racial segregation and women having few choices over their lives and although Virgie questions the role of women and Albert attempts to befriend a black colleague I think these issues could have been explored in more depth.
The Well and The Mine is Gin Phillips first novel and it combines a mystery story while chronicling the lives of a family and community in a lyrical and engaging manner making it a very enjoyable read.
The Well and The Mine is Gin Phillips first novel and it combines a mystery story while chronicling the lives of a family and community telling how the underground worlds of the well and mine shape their lives in a lyrical and engaging manner making it a very enjoyable read.
The Well and The Min by Gin Phillips
Virago Press Ltd (5 Nov 2009)