1965 Pulitzer winner, I Found akin to Being Made to Eat a Heaping Helping of Turnip Greens yuck Because I was a Growing Boy The Unfair Bait and SwitchI read this novel for two reasons it won the Pulitzer the year I was born, and it s set in a fictional county in the deep American South during a time of racial hatred and violence I m sure The Keepers of the House had quite an impact back then and, the nation s posture at the time screamed for Pulitzer to give its prize to Ms Grau for this book.
I was quite disappointed nonetheless The novel is righteous in achieving its ultimate just revenge Yet vengeance is not the protagonist s until the last 5% on kindle, after taking several hours to get there, which wouldn t have been a problem had it not been a long and quite boring 95% in which I had a hard time going back to it The characters are rather shallow, and it seems to me that Ms Grau could have cut the book in half and still achieved her goal Like my grandmother putting a large helping of unpleasant looking smelling turnip greens in front of 7 year old me at Sunday dinner, I had to force myself to keep reading, telling myself it s good for a growing mind Yet, I cringed getting it down, in an overall reading experience that was much chore than pleasure At 7 Beyonce would have made little difference Now have you also any spinach Winner Of The Pulitzer Prize In , The Keepers of the Houseis Shirley Ann Grau S Masterwork, A Many Layered Indictment Of Racism And Rage That Is As Terrifying As It Is WiseEntrenched On The Same Land Since The Early S, The Howlands Have, For Seven Generations, Been Pillars Of Their Southern Community Extraordinary Family Lore Has Been Passed Down To Abigail Howland, But Not All Of It When Shocking Facts Come To Light About Her Late Grandfather William S Relationship With Margaret Carmichael, A Black Housekeeper, The Community Is Outraged, And Quickly Gathers To Vent Its Fury On Abigail Alone In The House The Howlands Built, She Is At Once Shaken By Those Who Have Betrayed Her, And Determined To Punish The Town That Has Persecuted Her And Her Kin Morally Intricate, Graceful And Suspenseful, The Keepers of the House Has Become A Modern Classic This is a sweeping tale of a Southern family, racial prejudice, and human integrity The Howlands are those Southerners the ones with lots of money, power and name After the death of his first wife, Will Howland fathers three children with his black housekeeper, Margaret, a woman he loves Everyone knows this, but no one acknowledges it Even inside the Howland home, this is a visible secret.
We meet both Will and Margaret before they meet one another Margaret is one of the most unique, believable and interesting characters that I have ever encountered Will, a strong man, handles his situation in the most upstanding manner that he believes a man in that day and age can do This is a tale of family a tale of blood, and sometimes a tale of how little we know about the people that we know the best Will s granddaughter, Abigail, is left to handle the consequences of this legacy, and she draws on the strength of her grandfather s blood in a way that leaves you cheering for her aloud.
The most shocking thing about this book is that it is not widely known and appreciated It received the Pulitzer prize in 1965, and I can imagine that it caused a bit of a stir in the South, a region in the throes of desegregation Like Lamb in His Bosom, another Pulitzer that I only discovered this year, this book has just faded into obscurity, and that is hard to understand Perhaps people feel it does not have any true relevance any, but I think it speaks to the humanity of every character in the most relevant of ways Are we not still, and always, being encouraged to view our world through the most politically expedient optics How many of us decide what we think and feel based on what we are told we ought to think and feel How many of us have the courage to lead a life that is opposed to that norm Along the way, Grau scatters little bits of wisdom that are completely true, completely universal, and yet so seldom voiced We ll remember him, she thought For a time, a little time, before it starts slipping away from us, and we won t remember hardly at all Then we ll be dead too, and that ll be the end of him, for good And isn t it funny, she thought, that it takes two generations to kill off a man First him, and then his memoryI have often thought exactly this Everyone who personally knew my grandparents is dead, excepting my generation of siblings and cousins When we are gone, no one on earth will remember them and many of our children will probably not even be able to identify them in photographs But we are made up of these people Many of the things I have passed to the next generation have come directly from them, many of the most precious stories I know are their stories In so many ways, that is what this book is really about, the passage of time and the passage of something unidentifiable, in the blood, that is about who we are and where we come from.
If Harper Lee, Henry David Thoreau and Wallace Stegner had a triracial love child it might read something like this 1965 Pulitzer Prize winner Wait a second Triracialism I think I need to go back and reread some things in Margaret s section before I continue trying to write this In the meantime and I case I don t , let me just say that it s a crime that this isn t as widely read as To Kill a Mockingbird I learned so much from it 5 stars.
I m the foolish one who let this set on their shelf unread for 10 years What an incredible book that I never hear of OK well one friend mentioned it that needs attention I am going to say that after To Kill A Mockingbird as number one, this book should be number two on a list of books about the South If I had to nominate any single book to represent and capture the American South, this would be it There are eccentric family secrets and they are indelicate, but the delicacy of the voice that delivers the words soothes with gentleness The contrast from delicacy to violent forces of nature and mankind enrich every page So much history, so many nuances of the culture, there are so many things that you will file away in your soul to return to later I heart strong Southern women, and the younger Abigail shows her mettle before the perfectly suited ending This book will move you, lead you to places complex and beautiful It could make grown men shed a tear than once and not at obvious places, sometimes just in anticipation of what you expect to happen This is not melodramatic, this is art These are also some of the best descriptions of our Natural world, this amazingly skilled author delivers beautiful vignettes while keeping a kinetic thread of activity Action passes through nature and leaves a poets keen observances of the beautiful and the violent I recommend this to everyone If this is not the South, this is the way I wish to imagine it My Opinion,OR NOT 4.
5 It was hard to get into at first bc I had so many life things going on around me but I knew it was a good book right away This is a historical fiction book spanning 7 generations of the Howland family told in the narrative of Abigail Howland It starts with her grandfather, William s, perspective then goes on to Margaret Carmichael s story and how they happened to meet Margaret is the black housekeeper William has hired She also births him 5 children but only 3 survive No one bats an eye to this indiscretion until a secret is revealed after their deaths.
The story build up was a slow one but much needed to tell the story I liked Abigail at first, when she told of being a young child but as she grew and married I wanted to punch her snobby ass in the face She redeems herself in the end by being a strong woman with lots of money to help do the talking when all the men in her life have left her but she turned out to be a spoiled white typical Southern woman, stereotype for that time If she would have learned anything from her grandpa, who raised her, she would have turned out to be a decent human being But I guess we don t listen until life punches us in the face and we are left with quotes to remember My grandfather said He ll do all right There s some of his family that s bums, but there s some of ours we can t look too hard at We could start listing with your father PAGE 198 You don t seem happy about it He had begun to fill his pipe Honey, I m just too old to get excited Seems like all I can remember is how many time the same thing has happened to me, Right now you re telling me this And seems all I can remember is your mother and me, just the two of us driving back from the station in a buggy and coming up that front drive there, same drive, same plants, same everything, and her telling me she was in love and getting married John s not like my father And seems I can remember me coming home to tell my parents I was in love and getting married And they didn t look surprised either, nor very happy It s not the same with me, I said, it s different When you re old as me, he said, you ll see that there ain t much that s different or separate or unusual PAGE 199 Loved these quotes every generation thinks they are better and smarter than the last but it all goes through cycles and we are saying the same things to our children.
This was a great historical fiction novel for fans of this genre.
November evenings are quiet and still and dry The frost stripped trees and the bleached grasses glisten and shine in the small light In the winter emptied fields granite outcroppings gleam white and stark The bones of the earth, old people call them In the deepest fold of the land to the southwest where the sun went down solid and red not long ago the Providence river reflects a little grey light The river is small this time of year, drought shrunken It turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror As I stand there in the immaculate evening I do not find it strange to be fighting an entire town, a whole county I am alone, yes, of course I am, but I am not particularly afraid The house was empty and lonely before I just did not realize it it s no worse now I know that I shall hurt as much as I have been hurt I shall destroy as much as I have lost.
It s a way to live, you know It s a way to keep your heart ticking under the sheltering arches of your ribs And that s enough for now.
These are the first and last paragraphs of the brief first section of Chapter 1 of The Keepers of the House, a wonderful tale of several generations of a Southern family It is a delicious slice of Southern culture and of the painful effects of sex roles and racial conflicts on the lives of the family s members The characters are strong and interesting and well rounded The prose is clear and evocative of the Southern climate and landscape If you want a taste of Mississippi across generations and don t want to do the hard work of reading Faulkner, this one will give you an easier, but in many ways similar, experience This one earned its Pulitzer.
When Money and Power hurts really badly, it lashes out and destroys as much as it has lost When Money and Power looks back on the cadavers left behind after the battle was concluded, it sees a drought shrunken river which turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror.
Over the vast expanse of the Alabama heartland, belonging to seven generations of William Howlands, destiny spanned invisible woven threads over Howland Place, Madison City and the county Abigail Howland Mason Tolliver, a Howland descendant, stumbled and fell into it The sins of the fathers revisited the children It was a God awful reality There was a time when Money power had a human name It all started out in the spring of 1815 when William Marshall Howland from Tennessee, settled down in the county and named the river Providence, after his mother Through seven generations, the Howlands worked hard They farmed and hunted they made whiskey and rum and took it to the market down the Providence River to Mobile.
However, it was Mrs Aime Legendre Howland, wife of William Carter Howland s brother, who changed the shape and size of the Howland fortunes during the Reconstruction She had a craving for land, and as other farms were sold in the poverty stricken 70 s and 80 s she began buying All sorts of land Bottoms, for cotton Sandy pine ridges that weren t used for anything in those days except woodlots.
It was Methodist and Baptist country, where Coonshine was popular Catholics and Freejack Negroes were unpopular Ridge runners brewed likker in the middle of the Honey Island Swamps the New Church community of proud Freejacks settled the pine uplands and the swampy bottomlands between the east and west branches of the Providence River, had Indian Coctaw ancestry, with their customs and traditions intact, keeping them even away from the other Negros and spawned a half breed called Margaret Carmichael She borned three red headed, blue eyed children to William Howland and sent them away forever to the North, to save them from a life as quadroons, or Negroes in the South, grubbing in the mud.
After all, Margaret traveled by train to Cleveland to give birth to all three her white children That way the word Negro was not on their birth certificates In the South they were still regarded as William Howland s wood colts One of them was Robert Howland Carmichael, William Howland s half breed and only son, who could never claim his rightful name, which should have been William Howland the Eighth, or better yet, William Carmichael Howland Neither could he claim his heritage He became Abigail s biggest threatIn the South, most people could tell that Robert was a Negro In the North, he would have been white.
Abigail wished him dead But their common atavistic destiny dictated a different path With a ruthless vengeance the wrongs of the past came tumbling down and shattered the illusion of heaven on earth when Ms Abigail Howland Mason married the ambitious lawyer John Tolliver, a gubernatorial candidate Sleeping dogs would have blissfully slumbered forever, was it not for John s indefatigable political hunger and Robert Carmichael s visit to his legally white family of Howland Place William Howland once told his granddaughter, Abigail, that she was a child and like her mother Abigail, his daughter, had very little sense He also saidOur children grow old and elbow us into the graveAnd that is why Money and Power would finally get a human face Abigail Howland Mason Tolliver It was all she had left to fight back.
And that s when history burst out in tears My commentsA tragic, beautiful tale, told in picturesque, cinematic, lyrical prose The misleading serenity of the woodlands and the swamps the volatility of the times the hatred and hypocrisy of the inhabitants the cruelness of history it all burst open like an overripe boil that has been foisted for too long on a toxic body What if William Howland did not venture into the swamps to find the hidden stills of the Robertson brothers and met Margaret Carmichael washing her clothes in a remote spot of the river What if Abigail, his daughter, did not marry Gregory Edward Mason What if Abigail, his granddaughter, did not marry John Tolliver What if William Howland made his only son, Robert, his rightful heir What if Abigail did not inherited his power and wealth from her grandfather What if Abigail blamed her own choices for the tragedy that ensued, and not other people For instance, who forced her to marry her husband What if Abigail has done right to Margaret Carmichael s children She could have changed their lives, but decided not to Would it have changed the racial conflict or the white perceptions in any way Was Abigail s revenge the only option to resolve the bitter conflict My guess is that this book did not receive the accolades it deserved due to the unrealistic ending Added to that was the almost never ending painting of the canvas as the background to the final events Although beautifully described in almost microscopic detail, the too elongated, tedious descriptions of the wilderness and the swamps, and the history of violence and vengeance of the people surviving in it, discouraged readers than it should have The book also confronted an America during a volatile period in the Sixties, when people died in an effort to bring justice to all citizens of the country The book could have made a difference if it was edited into a streamlined, focused story of a woman who had to face the consequences of her heritage alone, against an angry mob of cruel bigots who all leeched off her grandfather s wealth and his sense of humanitarian compassion There were too many word dumping taking place, lessening the drama considerably The book was also a story told a million times before It added nothing new to the debate that was raging through the country What it did do, though, was bring a deeply heartfelt tale to the table where anger and resentment ruled at the time, and presented a story in a musical rhythm of words It was a saga which needed to be told It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for exactly this reasonDo what you have to do, William Howland told his granddaughter from his grave, when she lay emotionally wounded, bleeding, hurting, alone And so she did, with the blood of seven generations of Howlands raging through her body, and the well of anger drenching an ancestral thirst for revenge She did it the best way she knew how A gripping tale A touching story A thought provoking experience.
I first read this book about 15 years ago when I assigned it for my bookclub It was one of the best discussions we ever had about racism, hatred and Southerness I decided to re read this when it was a choice for On the Southern Literary Trail group here on GR.
It was every bit as good this time around, maybe even better A family saga of the Howlands, a family who settled in what sounds like northern Alabama, although the locale is never named With 200 years of living on the same land, in the same house, we get the stories of the predecessors of Will Howland and his grand daughter Abigail Will spent his last 30 years living with his black housekeeper , and had 3 children with her Abigail is the one who has to deal with that legacy The way she dealt with the prejudice and anger of the townspeople when they learn the truth will have you cheering Revenge can be a wonderful thing when you have the money to do it right.
This book won the Pulitzer in 1965, and, in my opinion, deservedly so Beautiful, poetic prose, wonderful nature writing, an understanding of how to build a story, and some powerful characters determined to protect their own make this a great book Highly recommended to anyone needing a really good book to get involved in.