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Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 1, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 194 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Mayes, adored for her famed Tuscany books (Under the Tuscan Sun, 1996; Every Day in Tuscany, 2010), mined the murky depths of her family’s history for her first novel, Swan (2002). She now returns to the scene of the crimes in both literal and figurative senses. Her “southern memoir” is a tale straight out of Faulkner, rife with episodes of dissipation and disillusion, parents who loved and fought with equally wild abandon, and ancestors with names like Big Mama and Daddy Jack. While on a book tour in Oxford, Mississippi, Mayes realized her southern roots ran deeper than she believed or would have liked. But she and her husband were sufficiently compelled to relocate from Northern California to North Carolina, settling in a university town with a far enough remove to allow her an objective distance from which to analyze the signature episodes of her childhood. With her trademark skill for capturing the essence of place and time, Mayes candidly reveals a youth riddled with psychological abuse and parental neglect that, nevertheless, ignited a fiery passion for adventure and self-discovery. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A best-selling sensation worldwide, Mayes will galvanize readers with this vigorously promoted coming-of-age tale set on her home terrain. --Carol Haggas


Images from "Under Magnolia"

Young Frances Mayes and her childhood friends
Young Frances Mayes and her childhood friends

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Frances Mayes’s mother, Frankye
Frances Mayes’s mother, Frankye

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Frances Mayes at Daytona Beach
Frances Mayes at Daytona Beach

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Southern Independent Booksellers Association Spring 2014 Okra Pick

“As gothic as anything Faulkner could have dreamed up, populated by characters straight out of a Flannery O’Connor story…a thorny memoir that strips away the polite Southern masks, sweet magnolias be damned. Unforgettable.” Atlanta Journal Constitution

“One of those books you want to devour but realize it’s more satisfying to savor for as long as possible.”Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A best-selling sensation worldwide, Mayes will galvanize readers with this vigorously promoted coming-of-age tale set on her home terrain.”Booklist

Under Magnolia is a gorgeous, dreamy remembrance of hot Southern afternoons, mothers in red lipstick and Shalimar, Elvis turned up loud to cover up the family troubles that ran deep. An unflinching love song to her simultaneously rich and troubled childhood, it is Mayes’ most generous work yet.” –BookPage

“Like the rest of America, I fell in love with Tuscany and Italy when I read Frances Mayes's wondrous memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun.  She followed her Tuscan books with a beautiful novel called Swan, which alerted me to her southern heritage.  In her new southern memoir, Under Magnolia, Frances Mayes describes the birth of her extraordinary sensibility, the deep-pooled clarity of her writing, her giddy love of nature, and her sharp and satirical eye for those who brought her up to honorable womanhood in the tortured South of her girlhood.  Her prose style is seamless to me and she writes in a royal style.” –Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and The Death of Santini

“No other writer today breathes life into place like Frances Mayes. In Under Magnolia, she turns her prolific gift of language and description to the South and her childhood there. This memoir recalls bygone days filled with neighborhood characters, sultry weather, Sears Roebuck catalogues, smothered quail—all the trappings of a Southern childhood. Under Magnolia is a love song, a rich and beautiful book.” – Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief

“No one could have invented a more combustible, joy-starved pair of glam and oblivious parents or a more incandescent child to dive into the blue ruins, explore the sealed-off passages, blacked-out dreams and neglected outlets by the beams of her own incredulous eyes; then break the surface a smart-mouthed, truth-seeing sensualist, fully in attendance to the vibratory moment. The deft framing, the exacting word picks, apposite references, high speed wit, singled out synecdoches of a life; the cadence, phrasing, and pulse of a muted Georgian accent are all signature to the prose and poetry, stove-tops and passport stamps of Frances Mayes. In her memoir Under Magnolia they are second skin. When she comes clean, you feel, can I say it, cleansed. Freer. Floatable. What an offering.” – C.D. Wright, author of One with Others

“Under Magnolia is much more than an entrancing memoir: it is a work of art that defies the distinction between prose and poetry or novels and autobiographies.  It is also much more than a personal narrative: it is an unflinching meditation on the relation between self and culture, and, more specifically, on the gravitational pull of memory.  This is a book to be savored, a feast for both mind and soul.”  – Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana

“Mayes has written a brash and delightful, cringe-worthy and uproariously funny memoir. As I read, I wished Mayes had been my teenage neighbor. Wit–as well as misery–loves company.” Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie

Under Magnolia is one of the most brilliant memoirs ever written, shedding new light on a certain mysterious South and offering  a memorable portrait of the artist as a young girl. Frances Mayes, a petite, brainy beauty from what we used to call politely 'a troubled home' has written an unnervingly honest and refreshingly open account of how a child can be neglected even amid privilege and a large family...  Reader, artist, scholar, poet—Frances Mayes gradually became the aesthete and writer she is today, a passionate lover of the world and the word.” –Lee Smith, author of Guests on Earth

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition first Printing edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307885917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307885913
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Speaking as someone who adored Frances Mayes' Tuscan memoirs, I was very disappointed in her new book, "Under Magnolia."

While on a book tour stopover in Oxford, Mississippi (home of the University of Mississippi, William Faulkner, and ground zero for the Southern Gothic literary genre), Ms. Mayes takes a stroll through the grounds of the unoccupied Faulkner home and becomes inspired to leave her Tuscan and California lives behind and return to her roots in the southeastern US.

Ms. Mayes grew up in Fitzgerald, GA, which gives her an opportunity to revel in all the typical southern literary conventions. I, too, grew up in Georgia and I find Mayes' account of her childhood comes across less like a believable personal story and more like a mash-up of stereotypes.

If you've ever read a book in which the protagonist is a young girl growing up in the South, this is more of the same. Young Frances appears to be some combination of Frankie ("Member of the Wedding"), Scout ("To Kill a Mockingbird") with a side order of Flannery O'Connor. Even Mayes' mastery of descriptive prose, so fascinating in Tuscany, just comes across as a florid rehash of things said before (and better) by Carson McCullers and Harper Lee. In other words, the southern aspects are simply derivative. The personal aspects, notably her interactions with her parents, sisters and housekeeper actually make her seem cynical, selfish and simply unlikeable in the bargain.

To sum up, not only did I feel I had read better versions of this story before, it actually made me like the author significantly less than I had previously.
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Format: Hardcover
Seems like everyone these days is compelled to write memoirs about their lives. However, some people lead much more interesting lives than others and that is the problem here. The author relates her coming of age story growing up as a pampered southern girl in the South in the 1950's. She portrays herself as a "renegade" liking the new music etc. of the young during that era contrary to what a southern girl should like. True, she has a dysfunctional family but I think there were a few others with those in that era. I think that the book was more beneficial and cathartic for the author than a benefit to the readers. I believe many of the people reading these reviews could write meatier memoirs about themselves. Read it for its good writing not for an exceptional life story.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Frances Mayes went to Oxford, Mississippi for a book reading. She had planned on spending an extra day to look at the town, and to look at William Faulkner's birth place. What really happened was that Frances found her birth place, the soil, the heritage from which she was born, and she knew at that moment she wanted to move home.

Frances Mayes of Tuscany fame, was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia. She had a traditional southern upbringing for the time. The 50's when integration was not in the vocabulary. She was brought up by Willie Mae, the family caretaker, cook, housekeeper, and whose husband looked after France's father, Garbert. Garbert ran the local mill, and was fond of saying he treated everyone fairly. He would ask the help if they were treated fairly, and they always answered,"Yes, Cap'n" and turned with a different expression on their face. Her mother, the southern bell, Frankye, ran the home and the card parties, the afternoon teas, brought up the three girls, spent money like wildfire and loved her family. Frankye and Garbert had vicious arguments most nights, fueled by the alcohol they drank. Frances tells us of her life in Fitzgerald, like a great old southern novel. Free of worries, cared for by Willie Mae, loved by everyone, summer vacations on the islands off Georgia's shores. A really nice life, but with the current of alcoholism cutting through everything.

As Frances was growing up, it was okay for women to go to college. You studied the nice things, English, and wanted to be a teacher. Working in the summer was not something that was done by most girls. You read and played and went to the shore. Frances went to Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia. Far enough away from home, but not up north.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir is Frances Mayes latest book and it shows a much different Frances Mayes than most of her readers are likely used to. In this memoir she takes us back to her roots and to the struggles and triumphs that made her who she is today. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Frances Mayes herself and I thought she did a wonderful job. To me a memoir is made all the more powerful when the author reads it themselves.

Frances didn’t have a rosy childhood with a father who was quite ill and a mother who struggled with depression and alcoholism. From a young age she wondered why her family wasn’t like others and why they couldn’t be happy. I think it’s a testament to her that she became the amazing writer she is today. To overcome adversity and rise above it is always an inspiration to others. As a young woman she was basically told she needed a husband because that’s just how things were done and yet she wanted more for herself.

I found too that the dynamic between mother and daughter was interesting. Despite the struggles with her mother Frances always make it clear that nobody is perfect and her mother had good and bad points. Truthfully we all do. While her mother left her with bad feelings she also left her with good ones. In all of it she realizes that her mother never got to have the life she may have wanted and it resulted in her alcoholism and depression. One of things that Frances said that stuck in my mind was that her mother’s life had blossomed into hers meaning that while her mother may not have gotten to see her dreams realized Frances was going to do it for her. It was just so profound to me to be so forgiving and accepting.

This memoir is so different from her memoirs about Tuscany which I loved.
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