Struggle knows no class or skin color, now or in 1924 when Louisville native Deb Spera’s new novel, Call Your Daughter Home, (Park Row Books, $26.99), takes place. South Carolina farm families were reeling from a boll weevil infestation that consumed the cotton crop and with it, the livelihood and hope of all involved. Despite hard times for all, social class stayed put with lines one seldom dared to cross.
Spera’s story covers the lives of three women, seemingly with little in common, whose paths intertwine in unexpected ways.
Gertrude Pardee’s life is sinking rapidly in the swamp where she and two of her four daughters live with her abusive, alcoholic husband, Alvin. Because “times is desperate hard,” the youngest two girls have gone to live with Gertrude’s brother for a better chance of survival. What little money Alvin earns goes to feed his liquor habit, which feeds his bad temper. Meanwhile, Gertrude and the girls hardly get fed at all. When she is forced to take matters into her own hands, Oretta Bootles is an unlikely savior.
Oretta serves as the full-time maid to Ann Coles, a woman of high social standing in the community. An excellent cook who also delivered most of the babies in town, Retta is well-respected as long as she remembers her place. She has suffered devastating loss, but she knows when to speak and when to keep her mouth closed. When Ann faces a tragedy of her own, Retta will have to choose between her ‘place’ and her loyalty.
Ann is married to a man of position, lives in a fancy home and runs her own business. Behind her strong facade, however, is the sting of her daughters’ rejection and years of silence after they left home. As she uncovers their reasons, facades and barriers will be broken down.
Spera, who now lives in Los Angeles, weaves the stories of these women and their separate injustices into a beautiful bond that goes beyond color, standing or privilege and proves that people are often strongest in the midst of struggle.