One of the deepest pleasures of bookstore browsing is coming across an unexpected new offering by a favorite author. Thursday night at our neighborhood bookseller I discovered Under Magnolia, a new coming- of -age memoir by the incomparable Frances Mayes. I’ve loved her work since reading Under the Tuscan Sun, her delightful chronicle of buying and restoring Bramasole, her Tuscan villa. While living in Tuscany is only a dream for me at least for now, and harder to imagine, the material she mines in Under Magnolia is very familiar since, I, too am the product of a Southern childhood.
Like me, Frances left her Southern hometown as a young woman and stayed away for many years looking for a larger life than was possible “down home.” She writes: “When I left the South at age twenty two, the forced that pushed me west was as powerful as the magnet that held me. For years when I went back home to visit I broke out in hives…powerful juju..” Her memoir springs from wondering whether she can re- imagine Fitzgerald, Georgia. The place she left behind.
She writes of missing the words of the South, words that were familiar to me in my Tennessee childhood: young ‘uns, I swan ( my mother still says this) pray tell, cut the light. She remembers the buzz of bees in the boxwood bush beside the door, the scent of walnuts, the dim coolness of a springhouse where buttermilk once was stored. I read her words and I, too am home.
Frances Mayes is a published poet, and her book shimmers with breathtaking lyricism sure to make displaced Southerners weep with nostalgia and recognition. Readers who didn’t grow up Southern grew up somewhere, and the emotions and the epiphanies Frances lays out in this wonderful book will resonate with everyone looking back on their own “growing up” years, and how those years shaped the people we became.
Under Magnolia came out on April 1st. I’d love to hear from anyone who has had the pleasure of dwelling for a few hours inside this lovely book.