Publisher: Amazon Encore
Date published: September 20, 2011
Reviewed by Lynne
Obtained via Publisher
It is 1913, and Annalaura Welles, alone with four children, are stuck on a Tennessee tobacco farm owned by the powerful landowner, Alexander McNaughton, as sharecroppers. John Welles, intent on bettering his life and that of his family, abandons them without notice, leaving them to fend for themselves, as he goes looking for better-paying work. Overwhelmed at being left to care for her children and to still bring in the season’s crop, Annalaura does her best to keep things as normal as possible. Still, without food or money, her struggle is exhausting and futile.
Alex and Eula Mae McNaughton aren’t rich, by most white-man standards, and depend on the hired help to bring in their crop. Aware Welles has run off, leaving his family alone to tend to things, Alex eventually confronts Annalaura about her situation. Determined to carry on as before, she assures her employer that things will be on schedule. Yet, when he takes note of her exhaustion and starving children, he has his doubts and, instead, offers her a proposition she has no interest in. Still, as time goes by, Annalaura soon finds herself with her back up against the wall and unable to put the amorous white landowner off as before. Alex, meanwhile, infatuated with the beautiful black woman, soon coerces her, albeit patiently, into his bed, despite her good intentions of remaining faithful to John, the man she loves.
When John Welles returns unannounced over a year later, he finds his family’s situation changed, his wife pregnant with a child that isn’t his, and his children thriving...without him. Furious, he is intent on taking vengeance against the man responsible...and against his own wife and family for their betrayal.
PAGE FROM A TENNESSEE JOURNAL by Francine Thomas Howard is an exceptional book. Haunting in its scope, realistic in its portrayal as to the difficult lives and situations affecting poor, hardworking black families in the South just before the start of the First World War, it is a real eye-opener, a page turner, regarding moral boundaries between blacks and whites at that time. It is a story based on a true family’s struggle to survive at all costs.
I was greatly impressed with this first novel by Ms. Howard. It is incredibly well-written and accurate as to dialogues, American desire and ambition, and the struggles of blacks to maintain their survival in a country still filled with racial bigotry and tension.
I felt such empathy toward the characters. Ms. Howard’s skill at characterizations made me connect with each of them on one level or another. Understanding how each of them thinks regarding the various situations in this story makes it easy. Each person has a separate story to tell, a good reason for their actions, even if their behavior isn’t always as it should be. Many of the whites seem typically self-centered and arrogant, while Annalaura is only interested in working hard to fulfill her obligations and care for her family. She is the giver, the caretaker of those who refuse to understand and respect her wishes. Namely, Alex and her husband, John. But considering the time and Jim Crow laws, the options for a poor black woman and her children were little-to-none at this period in history. John, however, does have his family’s best interests at heart, although he goes about it the wrong way, by abandoning them as he does and leaving them destitute. Annalaura, in the end, is forced to do whatever it takes to provide for her children and herself, as would any normal human being, regardless of the consequences.
Although I will never understand the white man’s need to cheat on his wife with women of color back then, I was somewhat shocked at the resignation of the Southern women in PAGES FROM A TENNESSEE JOURNAL, who accept their husbands’ randy and adulterous behaviors without question or protest. Except for Alex’s wife, Eula, who is ready to avenge herself against Alex for his betrayal. As a woman who considers herself the perfect Southern wife, her rage at Alex’s behavior is understandable, especially since he has deceived her and taken her for granted for so long.
I was a bit disappointed at the ending to PAGE FROM A TENNESSEE JOURNAL. I had expected to learn where Annalaura had chosen to start a new life, but it is left up to the reader to wonder instead. Still, I can understand why Ms. Howard ended it the way she did. It left us with hope for Annalaura, for a brighter, happier future for her and her family. But I did like it that John finally forgave his wife in the end, for what life had forced her to do in order to provide for her children.
PAGE FROM A TENNESSEE JOURNAL is a must-read for anyone interested in true, historically-accurate stories from America’s troubled past. I loved it, and just couldn’t put it down.
Kudos to Ms. Howard for such a wonderful, intriguing, memorable story. I look forward to more of her work in future.
This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book.