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November 14 , 2009

In My Father's House


The Abernathy family lives in rural Mississippi where folks farm cotton and grow vegetables and kitchens are filled with smells of sweet potato pie, muscadine preserves, and pickled grapes. Cupboards bulge with Octagon soap wrappers collected to trade for dishes, and shelves are lined with homemade cures for everything ― sulphur, molasses, quinine, calomel, and mutton suet.  Life is serene and harmonious if folks follow the rules and heed natures' signals. Everyone knows, for example, that a morning shower, like an old person's dance, never lasts long, or that high birds and high smoke mean good plowing weather.  Some of the most important codes, however, are unspoken, and when these laws are violated, men are  obliged to abide by the code even if it means doing the unthinkable.

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    Hobson Abernathy, Big Hob, loves his family and leads his household with firmness and uncompromising example.  His wife, Lavinia, was married at sixteen and still fulfills her duties with skill and selfless devotion.  She obeys her husband (one of the rules), but she's a strong woman and when the occasion demands, she offers her wisdom to bring balance back to the family. Teenie, their teenage daughter spends her time bossin' her brother, Little Hob. Little Hob says he doesn't mind 'cause the same is true for chickens. One ol' rooster is always the boss and he can peck any chicken he wants to.  When Teenie isn't bossin', she's dreaming about the young man she's sparkin', Woody. And, Woody?  Well, he's anxious to marry Teenie and brags a lot to prove his eligibility. “Not bad loud-mouth bragging, just tongue-strutting,” as Hobson calls it. Little Hob is about growed up; still a boy in many ways, he is proud of his advancing maturity and is not shirking the arrival of a man's responsibilities.  Hobson teaches his son everything he needs to know, and if there's a man Little Hob idolizes, it would be his papa, Big Hob.

      In My Father's House is a beautifully crafted novel about life in the South during a time when values of heritage, maturation, and responsibility were keys to survival.  Lyrical, effortlessly constructed,  and  brilliantly blended, here is writing that will slow the reader's breathing and heighten awareness as the threat of a storm gathers in the mesmerizing languor of a summer afternoon.

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