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The Well and the Mine
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
As I read this book, I wished my mother was still alive to read it. It tells the story of a young girl and her family during the Depression. Like my mother, her father is a coal miner working for $8 a week. Reminders of the things that families did to survive during that time - eating a potato for lunch, putting cardboard in your shoes to make them last longer, working 350 hours in a month to pay your child's hospital bill - can help us gain perspective on the challenges we're facing now - and perhaps how we might use them to make our families stronger. My mother told me about those times. About how her older sister quit school rather than go without shoes. About how her father was murdered over a coal mine. About making a meal out of a piece of bread and a little sugar. I know she would have connected with this little girl.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's no wonder this book is getting huge buzz--it's a fantastic read that would appeal to anyone who loves Southern literature from the work of Fannie Flagg to Flannery O'Connor's; from Anne Rivers Siddon's books to William Faulkner novels. Really, this book appeals to anyone who loves a good story, rendered well. Phillips writing is somehow simultaneously fluid and hard-edged, and she knows her characters well enough to make their lives feel real to readers. This is one of the best books I've read in 2008. Highly recommended.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Mention fiction written from multiple points of view, and whose work comes instantly to mind? Well, if it's MY mind, the answer is William Faulkner--The Sound and the Fury; As I Lay Dying. It's an ambitious undertaking, and when Faulkner did it, it was considered experimental. In The Well and the Mine, Gin Phillips has chosen to tell a fairly simple story through multiple narrative voices, one for each of the five members of the Moore family of Carbon Hill, Alabama.

The central plot element of this novel is the search for the woman who threw a baby into the Moores' covered well one dark night. Nine-year-old Tess Moore saw it happen, so she and her older sister, Virgie, set out to discover whether all the newish babies in the community are alive and well. In the process, they introduce us not only to the Moores, but to quite a few of their friends and acquaintances as well.

The technique of changing narrators doesn't feel experimental anymore, but there were times in this book where it did not work particularly well. Some of the change-overs were just awkward, and at first the girls' voices were not quite distinct from one another, despite the difference in their ages. The odd layout of the text at the beginning of each new section also contributed to a disjointed feeling for me. It's hard to describe, but if you use the "Look Inside" feature of this site, and click on "surprise me" once or twice, you'll probably come across an example of what I mean.

I tried very hard not to make comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird, as others have done, while reading this story. To do so, I think, is to shortchange Gin Phillips. Despite a story line that I found less than compelling, and an anti-climactic ending, Phillips has given us a novel with characters more complicated than Lee's, in a Southern setting profoundly realistic. While this is presented as a reminiscence, it is virtually free of the nostalgia that permeates Scout Finch's look back in time. Finally, I would be very much surprised if this is the only novel Ms. Phillips has in her, and I will look forward to more of her writing.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Phillips slices into the bittersweet lives of the Moore family in 1931 Carbon Hill, Alabama, a mining town suffering the effects of the Depression. Their eyes focused hopefully on Roosevelt's New Deal, townspeople help one another survive the desperation gripping the country, although racial inequity still festers beneath the surface of daily life. When a lone woman drops a small bundle into the covered well on the Moore's back porch, nine-year-old Tess is invisible to the visitor, obscured in the evening shadows. Watching the woman, a stranger, Tess is frozen in shock, unable to speak. When she tells her parents, they attribute Tess's excitement to yet another fanciful idea, but are proven wrong the next day when the body of a baby is retrieved from the well. While much neighborly curiosity ensues, after a while it is only Tess and Virgie, 14, who are unable to forget the event. Life is far too difficult to tarry long over the infant in the well.

Because Albert Moore owns land, his family will not go hungry; but those coming to this family's door are never sent away empty-handed. There is a strong current of community that serves this town well, the mines swallowing able men before light, spewing them back in the dark, coal-stained, to spend a few precious hours with their families. In a home built on strong values, Leta and Albert treasure their children, the impudent and curious Tess, teen-aged Virgie, navigating her adolescence and Jack, a bit younger than Tess and all boy. This is a family nurtured on respect and hard work, the children basking in their parent's solicitude and moral direction. It is this moral sense that confounds young Tess as she grapples with an unidentified woman's motivation in tossing her child into the back porch well. Told from the various perspectives of family members, an image emerges of life in a mining community faced with the daunting challenges of the times.

Through Albert, the father, we learn of the racial prejudice that seethes beneath the surface in Carbon Hill, the rigid attitudes that circumscribe Albert's efforts to connect with Jonah, a black friend and co-worker. Much as he might hope, a real friendship isn't possible, the ramifications for Albert's children's futures too risky. The back-breaking work of the mines informs this family's daily rituals, the children lovingly tended as they sample the realities of the world they inhabit. While the question of the mother's identity is an underlying theme, so is the simplicity of these lives, the hope for better working conditions through the UMW and the solid values that make such an existence bearable. This is a vivid palette of the experiences that define former generations, stoic in their hardship, their Christian doctrines challenged by racial prejudice, poverty and one mother's desperate action. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
I will honestly admit up front that the only reason I requested this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program is because Fannie Flagg wrote the introduction. The description sounded acceptable, but really, it all came down to Fannie Flagg for me. I love Fannie Flagg and all of her books, and I thought, 'Fannie Flagg hasn't written anything in quite awhile now, but at least I'll get to read an introduction by her!' Well, how wrong I was. I not only got an introduction by Fannie Flagg, but I also got a book that is honest, funny, poignant and touching all wrapped up into a story that I won't forget anytime soon.

Taking place in 1931, The Well and the Mine tells the story of Albert and Leta Moore and their family, daughters Virgie and Tess and young son Jack. The Moore's own land, so do not struggle as much as some of their neighbor's during the Depression, but still, like it is for everyone, times are not easy. Albert works in the coal mines, a fate that he doesn't want to have happen to his son. Leta cooks and cleans and takes care of her family, sometimes doing without for herself to make sure her children want for nothing. The children help out with day to day chores, but live a rather sheltered life at home, not knowing how bad it is for some of their own neighbors during this time.

One summer evening, Tess witnesses a woman throw a baby into the family well. No one believes Tess, thinking the event is a result of her overactive imagination, until the next day when a dead baby is pulled from the well. What transpires from this event is an amazing journey for the entire family, as they come to terms with their changing views of their own lives and the changing world around them. The two girls find themselves most at odds with their changing perspectives on the world. Tess comes to terms with the fact that the world is not necessarily always a perfect place. Virgie begins to question her role as a woman, as the event makes her wonder what it would take for a mother to want to kill a child, and whether she wants her 'self' tied down to a child or family.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of each member of the family, with each chapter being broken into segments from each person's point of view. This gives an interesting insight into the growth of not only each character, but in their own interactions with their family. Phillips easily writes in the local dialect without overwriting the accents and local colloquialisms that can so easily happen when an author tries to mimic a speech pattern from an area. She tells her story fluidly, and while some of the aside stories seem to veer a little too far from the main flow of the story, overall, she wraps the book up nicely, not leaving the reader feel like they've missed out on anything in the story.

I am very happy to have read The Well and the Mine. I love how Phillips adds more and more layers to her story, yet never makes it feel like she is adding too much. The story unfolds at a perfect pace, witnessed more through the development and growth of the characters rather than by the actual events in the story. It's a lovely coming of age story, not only for each individual member of the family, but also the family as a whole.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
This lovely story of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, in extraordinary times is a beautiful example of southern life where poverty is common yet never an excuse. People work hard, they take care of each other, and they find joy in simple things. This book captures the dialect of the South and the reader feels the cold, wet darkness of the mine as well as the sunny fields essential to the family's life. I loved it!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
I like Southern fiction and so much wanted to like this book. But there were just too many flaws in it that stifled any enjoyment I'd hoped to get from it. Set in 1931 Carbon Hill, Alabama,while sitting on her family's back porch at night, nine-year-old Tess witnesses a woman toss an infant into a well owned by Tess's family. This sets up a story with a lot of promise in the Depression era. The intrique builds as to who did it and why, but it soon collapses. There is no real conflict in the story, something to make the reader wonder what lurks around the corner. The narrative is flat througout. It's just a humdrum story about how a tight knit family (mother, father, two young daughters, and a young son) copes with things that a lot of people faced during this time--poverty and racisim. Nothing unique about any of that.

The point of view employed was distracting, especially having each family member give his/her point of in a chapter. That only amplified how the characters' voices sounded alike. Jack's (the young son) point of view was often thrust into the future, telling the reader what happened, for instance--get this--in 2004. When Jack suffers a mishap, we know the outcome because the reader is soon told what he did as an adult.

The characters were nearly bereft of physical description. I had a hard time seeing the characters, so I had to make them up in my head.

The ending is anti-climatic, and you'll wonder why you ever finished the book. Well, I finished it, hoping it would get better.

Perhaps a book for YAs, but they, too, would probably yawn.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
What a beautifully written book. Readers will find this new author's first novel refreshing in so many ways. The characters are well developed, the words are carefully chosen and the story is captivating. Gin Phillips is an exceptional talent whose work is being noticed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Well and the Mine's exceptional description of life in a poor Southern community is inspiring. The hard working and gentle spirit of the characters combined with issues of poverty, race and the storyline (mystery of the baby dropped in the well) are captivating. Gin Phillip's writing transports the reader to another time. So much so, I believe that the book should also come with a steamy, southern-style biscuit. Congratulations to Gin Phillips on this wonderful first novel. I look forward to more from this author.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book will pull you in from the first page and you won't want to put it down. While it's set firmly in the Depression-era South, its characters, their relationships and the issues they face resonate across time and place. This book made me laugh and cry, and I missed the characters when it was over. I can't wait to read more from Gin Phillips.
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