Both heart rending and life-affirming, Jim Grimsley’s semi-autobiographical novel shows the strength and courage of the human spirit.
Ever since Ellen Tote can remember, she has dreamed of her mother slowly slipping beneath the surface of a river, almost as if she were drowning. Why, asks Ellen, has Mama come to this river swollen with rain? Now, with her own children all grown and her two husbands and her siblings long gone, Ellen looks back to her childhood for answers.
What she finds is a young girl’s struggle to withstand a world rife with abuse and poverty. Her daddy drinks when there’s no logging work or no work he feels like doing. Her mama spends most of her time having babies, working in the tobacco beds and the cotton fields. Her older sister tries to escape her mother’s fate by running away. And Ellen just tries to stay out of everyone’s way, especially Daddy’s and Uncle Cope’s.
By piecing together her memories, Ellen solves the mystery of her dream and, in the process, finally articulates a story silenced by fear and shame.