The year is 1913, and young AnnaLaura Welles has again been abandoned by her philandering husband John. Left to fend for herself and her four young children, AnnaLaura struggles to keep her childrens' hunger pangs at bay. Worse yet, their life as tenant farmers is completely dependent on their ability to "bring in" a productive tobacco crop for their employer. And though AnnaLaura and all of her children--even the youngest, three-year-old Henry--toil from sunup to sundown, it soon becomes very apparent that the family will not be able to do it on their own...even though the very roof over their heads depends on it. When employer Alexander McNaughton visits the mid-forty, sensing something's amiss, it doesn't take him long to see the dire circumstances that the family is in...nor does it take him long to notice AnnaLaura. McNaughton realizes that AnnaLaura, though married, has no husband around. Soon all he can think about is his desire for AnnaLaura...and he acts on that. And he couples that with food, clothes, and other things for Anna (or Laurie, as he soon affectionately calls her) and her children. Of note is that this arrangement, at least initially, cannot be called a "relationship." To quote AnnaLaura's Aunt Becky: "Ain't never been a brown-skinned woman who had any say over what a Tennessee white man can do with her body." Eventually, however, AnnaLaura develops feelings for Alex...he is tender, loving, and provides for both her and her children. Soon AnnaLaura becomes pregnant with his child, and Alex is thrilled although AnnaLaura is horrified. She knows all too well the horrors that could befall her family under circumstances such as these...but Alex has visions of them living together as a family (despite the fact that he himself is married). The story takes a climactic turn when the errant John Welles returns home after being gone for a year...and see the very pregnant AnnaLaura.
A pageturner, with an interesting slant on the dynamic between a powerful White man and a powerless Black woman during the early 1900s....informative look into the existence of the tenant farmer. Loved the book.
This book is a must read. Author Francine Thomas Howard has done a superb job in crafting this story.
The year is 1913. The place is rural Tennessee. White farmers rule, despite the fact that the Civil War has been over for nearly 50 years. White women have little if any say in the day to day running of their households and if their men decide to stray, they are supposed to look the other way and pretend it never happened. Even worse are the lives of the black sharecroppers who make the farms profitable for the white owners. They struggle, barely earning enough to feed themselves and their families, though they are working long days in the fields. At times, even children as young as five help their parents tend the crops.
This harsh reality is the backdrop for the story of two families--those of John Welles, a black sharecropper, and Alexander McNaughton, a white farmer. All is well until John disappears, leaving his wife and four children to struggle. Soon the family is on the edge of starvation and John's wife Annalaura fears that they will be thrown off the farm because she and her children do not have the strength to bring in the tobacco crop. Then Annalaura catches the eye of Alexander. To say more about the plot would be a spoiler. But to find out what happens to the two families as a result of Welles' leaving and Alexander's actions, readers will keep turning pages far into the night.
Ms. Howard has depicted the customs and the mores of the times and made them seem real. She has entered her characters and stripped their souls bare.
This book is a very readable and interesting tale of race relations in the United States in 1913/14. The rules and realities of black/white interactions are defined through the main story and several side stories.
The success of The Help might have helped promote the reissue of this book and wisely so. It is an engrossing read and really hard to put down. Anyone interested in the subject of race relations in the US, or anyone looking for a really good novel, will find this of interest.
John Welles, a poor sharecropper black man with a wife and four small children, leaves unexpectedly and doesn't return for many months. His wife has great difficulty feeding her children and doing the work required to keep their home. She catches the eye of the white owner of the farm . . . Don't want to give away more of the story than is obvious but will say that the ending is a surprise and makes a hero out of an unlikely character in a very satisfying way.
on February 22, 2010
"Page From A Tennessee Journal", by Francine Howard tells the story of a black sharecropping woman, her family and the white family that owns the land they help farm. The white farmer, who's own wife is barren, uses the recently-absent black sharecropper's wife for his pleasure but ends up in love with her... and then the story gets complicated. Throw in some cards and whiskey, a brujo-mammy in a cabin by the river, a few wilting belle family relations arguing in a hot kitchen at canning time and you have the recipe for either a Nobel Prize or a near-disaster. But it's not 1949 and that Nobel was already handed out. This reader's opinion leans toward the latter for reasons I will elucidate below.
For me, this book read like an unedited rough draft. The pacing was slow enough to cause a lack of interest. I don't need an action-packed, explosion-filled action thriller, but Howard's story of bi-racial, southern intermingling, racism and share-cropping during the early 1900s could use a flood, tornado or some other calamity to occasionally jolt the reader into consciousness. It's as if the author thought that the forbidden sex of a bi-racial one-sided romance between a farmer and his sharecropper's wife would be tawdry enough to make her book a page-turner. For me, it was not and did not show me anything new. This story line, a well-intended but lengthy cliché, has been done more than a few times before and by much better authors than Ms. Howard.
Ultimately, Howard's "Page" is a fairly good effort, but will take some patience for those used to breezier story arcs. It is written an antique style and has a rural (some might say southern/ethnic) vernacular throughout. I didn't have a problem with those facts as much as I had trouble getting through some of the overly-wordy dialogue and repetitious situations/conversations. There is an art to self-editing and Ms. Howard's next book might hopefully show less of a propensity toward lengthy conversations and more toward picture interest and pacing.
If you are looking for something a bit higher grade which deals with similar situations and characters, look no further than Faulkner's "The Reivers" or "Light in August"; or perhaps in film, Robert Benton's "Places in the Heart". Any yearnings for fields of crops, twangy accents, wronged women or southern misogyny will be fully satisfied.
Page from a Tennessee Journal displays the prevalent racism of the time, and how even after the turn of the century white farmers where using another version of slavery - sharecropping. The more surprising theme is the subjugation of women, and the author illustrates that very well. In Francine Thomas Howard's unforgettable story a rich white farmer desires a black sharecropping woman. The events that take place change the lives of these two, and their spouses. The author was masterful in showing the limited control that Annalaura, a sharecropper whose husband has abandoned her and her children, can wield to protect herself. And surprisingly, we are shown the limited choices available to the farmer's wife, as she obsesses about the very few things she can control.
Written in the third person, Howard tells the story from the point of view of the four main characters - Annalaura, struggling to feed her children, her husband John who is off on a misguided quest, Alexander the farmer, and his wife Eula Mae. The author does a better job fleshing out the women than she does with the men mostly because of the details of the lives of the women are painstakingly described. With the men, the author adeptly exposes the attitudes that each held toward women.
Howard does not sugar-coat the sexuality or the despair in her telling of this collision of lives.
There's a bluntness and honesty in the writing of this book that is somewhat shocking at first. The use of the n-word, the description of the powerlessness of the wife and black sharecroppers in their relationship with the landowner, the living and working conditions where a woman and her children are left to work and nearly starve, and -- of course -- the fact that, during these times -- during the "Jim Crow" era -- black women raped by white men had little, to no recourse for justice. Thus, when the white tobacco farmer, Alex McNaughton (who owns the farm that John Welles and his wife, Annalaura, are sharecropping), first rapes, and then stumbles into love with Annalaura (while her husband is away for a year in Nashville), we find ourselve amid a story of forbidden love between a white landowner and the wife of his black sharecropper, a story unlike any I've ever read.
Reading this book I could not help but reflect back some years ago when I interviewed the last-living survivor of a ship sunk during World War I. He was a patient in the VA Hospital in Augusta, Georgia; an African-American, over a hundred years old, who had lived his life mostly as a tenant farmer in middle-Georgia. This man, well over six feet tall, with calloused hands and stooped shoulders, couldn't remember anything of the last decade or so, but could recall and talk about events of his early life and World War I as if they had happened yesterday.
What really perplexed me was the fact that he used the n-word when describing himself and other African-Americans he knew duing his life, hardly looked me in the eye and had a more-than-humble demeanor that I had never seen before. His mind was stuck in time; it was as if he had opened a time-capsule. While this was about 1989 -- his demeanor, his speech and everything about him -- was that of an African-American whose mind was still in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. He told me that he had been raised by a white family, that soon after he was born the landowner came by, and seeing that his mother and father already had several children, had told them that if they gave him the child, he would raise him as his own -- which he did. From that conversation I can vouch that however Francine Thomas Howard was able to tap into the language, tone and human relationships of the period, her depictions are an entirely accurate description of the time and place.
This is an exceptionally well-written book with a masterful plot and ending. Howard's descriptive prose places the reader right there, in the Jim Crow South and all that that implies. Offering readers a wonderfully nuanced plot structure, good narrrative flow that pulls the reader along, and vivid, believable characterizations, this is a book well-worth reading.
R. Neil Scott
Middle Tennessee State University
Not since reading Cane River (by Lalita Tademy) have I experienced such deeply thought provoking insight into the lives of African Americans and Caucasian Americans in post-Civil War USA. Howard's book is said to be loosely based on a long held family secret. Perhaps this is what brings such searing reality to her portrayal of the characters, their inner feelings and heartrending experiences. I don't want to spoil the unexpected ending but suffice it to say that every character ends up loosing themselves, their love, their happiness and their dreams to the demands of the segregated and divided world they live in.
The book is strongly compelling and "not put down-able" in parts making me read late into the night. In other sections it seems to drag, taking far too long to "get to the point". As a first book it is understandable that it could use a little more editing. Nonetheless the understanding of the antibellum culture of the South and the constraints that it placed on eveyone, not just the blacks, was worth every bit of the rocky flow. I am so very glad I stuck with the rough parts because the total book is a rare and brave masterpiece.
on March 13, 2010
Francine Howard's novel takes place in rural Tennessee (1913). The story centers around two couples - the McNaughton (white) family and the Welles (black) family and how each person is ruled (and crippled) by the strict social rules which govern their lives. We find out that Annalaura Welles is left in a "mess" (along with her four young children) to harvest their plot of land for Mr. McNaughton because her huband,John Welles, took off again. This time he ends up in Nashville, keen on making lots of cash for his family. While his intentions were good, his action (and abandonment) will have dire consequences for his family. I don't want to give away more details except to say the story is powerful, thought-provoking, and sexual. The most enlightening aspect for me was learning what it was like to be a white woman living during that time/place. Even though they were "free", they, too, were bound to very strict social rules about how to be a proper Southern woman, which among other things, meant to turn a blind eye to their husband's indiscretions and to bury any of their own sexual feelings. I would not be surprised if this novel is turned into a movie as the author does a wonderful job "bringing the characters to life". Kudos to Francine Howard for such an incredible debut.
on February 6, 2011
Page From a Tennessee Journal is truly an amazing first novel that takes a hard look at personal struggle and forbidden love in a highly racist small southern town in 1913. In it, we see an unlikely relationship develop between white landowner Alexander McNaughton and the wife of his tenant sharecropper, Annalaura Welles. When Annalaura's husband John runs out on her and their four children, he effectively gives her up to the white men in town as free for the taking. The story bounces around between Alex, his wife Eula Mae, John and Annalaura, giving the reader a look at all four of their lives and how they intertwine. An unlikely love springs up between Alex and Annalaura, and all hell breaks loose when John comes back to town. In the end, Annalaura learns that her fate rests in her own hands, not the hands of her black husband or her white lover.
Howard did a fantastic job in this telling of this novel. While I felt the start was a little slow, I was hooked on the story and the characters by the end of the first four chapters. This is an Amazon Encore edition, which to my knowledge resurrects self-published novels that are worthy of praise, and it shows. While I think Amazon was right in reprinting this book, I think they were a little hasty in submitting it for mass publishing. I think some passages could have used additional editing and reworking where the writing seems a little choppy. Nevertheless, this is an exceptionally good read, and one that you should not miss.
Francine Thomas Howard should be congratulated for reminding us about the existence of slavery in the post-slavery era. The story begins with a description of Annalaura Welles and her four small children. Annalaura's husband, John, had suddenly left his family before the tobacco crop harvesting had been completed. He took with him most of the family's funds and food. Annalaura and her young children had to subsist on soup made from water and dandelions while spending their days working in the hot sun. The owner of the farm, Alex, presents Annalaura with the "choice" of becoming his mistress and receiving food and clothes for her children or leaving the farm with nothing.
As Ms. Howard's novel unfolds, the sad plight of African Americans as well as white women unfolds. Annalura's husband, John, beats her when he returns from his journey because of her "choice" to sleep with another man. Annalaura has no recourse from John and surely had no option with Alex. Alex's wife, Eula Mae, had a roof over her head and food in her stomach, but she had little else. When she learned of Alex's infidelity, she was supposed to not mention it again and continue living in harmony with him. The highlight of her life to that point had been keeping a journal of provisions in the house.
I highly recommend reading this book because Ms. Howard's words describe an era that is difficult to otherwise fully appreciate.