The Well and the Mine – a novel by Gin Phillips

My book clubs is a conservative lot and when the opening line on the blurb for this book read “Carbon Hill, 1931: in a small Alabama coal-mining town, nine-year-old Tess Moore watches from the darkness of her back porch as a strange woman lifts the cover off the family well and tosses a baby in without a word.”

Right there it was decided that babies down wells do not make good reading for moms and moms to be, so the book got relegated to the pile not deemed suitable for selection.  Fortunately my friend Alice who was hosting is made of hardier stuff, and decided to veto the “communal” vote and purchased the book, which I quickly snatched up – good on you Alice.

I tend to run scared when I see a book has won an award or a prize (this one is the winner of the Barnes and Noble Discovery Prize).  I always think it’s going to be all pomp and flowery prose and far beyond my rather limited intellect,  but this book was brilliant and the characters quickly crept under my skin.

The Moore family, though very poor, grows food on their plot of land, so this saves them from the crippling poverty and near-starvation that besets their neighbours.

There is a strong current of community that serves this town.  The mines swallowing able men before light, spewing them back in the dark, coal-stained, to spend a few precious hours with their families.  In a home built on strong values, Leta and Albert Moore treasure their children.

This is a family nurtured on respect and hard work, the children basking in their parent’s solicitude and moral direction. It is this moral sense that confounds young Tess as she grapples with an unidentified woman’s motivation in tossing her child into the back porch well.

The book uses all five of the family’s members to unravel the tale in a mix of voices, each presenting their own take on events as viewed from their particular perspective, either recounting events, providing back-story or even, in the case of the youngest member, Jack, providing a retrospective view from his present day adulthood, highlighting just how so not very long ago those times really were.

Despite the shock of its opening and the dark theme which that promises, this book is, in reality, an absolute delight.  It shows how even in the darkest times, there is the hope of human decency, understanding and, above all, compassion for one’s fellow human beings.

Well recommended.

(I must confess to borrowing a few lines and turn of phrases from other reviewers when I wrote the review for this book – I felt they captured what I was grappling with much more eloquently than I could.)