The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

the wellThe Well and the Mine would seem to have the makings of a typical Southern Gothic mystery, in that it begins with a nine-year old girl witnessing a woman drop a baby into the family well.  But “Southern Gothic” really isn’t the essence of the book – it’s actually an easy read, and the initial occurrence  plays backstage to the family dynamics, racial issues, and the hard facts of life that make up a depression-era northern Alabama coal town.

Nine year old Tess is gregarious enough for her age, but values her quiet time.  Her favorite refuge is the back porch of the family home.  From here, she sees the previously mentioned event, and the quest is on to find the identity of the woman.  Even though their parents don’t want them prying too hard, Tess and her older sister Virgie do some casual snooping as to the likely culprit.

The author uses all five members of the Moore family as viewpoints.  They are tightly knit bunch; although the family is better off than some, Albert the father still works in the coal mine and every day is a workout for Leta the mother to make sure the household runs and there’s food on the table.  A good impression of the Moore family is that they are decent, the parents strict to a point, but decidedly with a sense of fun.  And when personal tragedy happens, they pull together.

This one falls under the category of “sweet little book with an edge”.  There’s always the undercurrent of hardship (the danger of the mines, the racism of the times) but for once, most of the characters are likeable.  The Well and the Mine is a keeper for those who like their Southern Lit over easy.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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