Virginia Redfield's childhood would be unbelievable in the hands of a less skilled writer. What mother wakes her daughter up in the middle of the night holding a knife over her, screaming she'd rather kill her than have her turn out like her aunt? What mother still sends her teen-aged daughter to school in homemade high-necked long-sleeved mid-calf-length dresses? What mother never permits her daughter to participate in activities after school or see friends ("They might not be saved")? Why does every horrifying, exciting, comical, bizarre event in this memoir seem utterly convincing?
I think it's because the author neither analyzes nor passes judgment on the "force of nature" who tried with never-flagging ferocity to mold her only child into a proper Nazarene Christian. Redfield's limpid prose, always a pleasure to read, never gets in the way of the story. We see for ourselves: Mama is doing her earnest, loving best to kill her daughter's wayward soul, and the struggle is riveting. "Baby," as Mama always called her, weakens at times, answers the altar call more than once, yet something in her won't yield to the cruel God the revival preachers invoke to frighten sinners forward. Something in her won't believe God can really be like that. And Mama can't keep her from reading great books, her reaction to which sets in motion an awakening (revival?) of mind and soul that begins even before she leaves home.
NIGHT BLOOM is a horror story, a mystery (what good southern memoir doesn't expose fascinating secrets?), a survival story, a coming-of-age story, ultimately a flowering-of-the-spirit story. Virginia Redfield takes us with her every step of the way, and the journey is thrilling.