Under the Magnolias
by T. I. Lowe
Dave Foster is a tobacco farmer and the pastor of the church he fondly refers to as the First Riffraff of Magnolia. He has a large family including two sets of twins, a mentally challenged son, and another who is physically disabled. His wife Edith is a loving mother who somehow manages her husband’s dark times and keeps the family happy. The main character is the oldest daughter Austin, and the story is related from her point of view as she finds herself at the age of fourteen having to become a mother to her six siblings and walk the fine line of respect for her father while acting as a buffer between him and the other children. She works to maintain his standing in the community and keep the tobacco farm running.
Under the Magnolias is very much a character driven story as Austin struggles and sacrifices for others. She is a very intelligent young lady who puts aside her dreams to help her family survive. Unfortunately her father’s dark times become deeper and more frequent and his outbursts more violent. A teenager, Austin doesn’t really know how to deal with her father’s mental issues or get assistance.
Help does come in the form of the mayor’s handsome son. Although Austin won’t let him get close because she is driven to maintain family secrets, he continues to stand by her. Others in their little church and her siblings are important to the story as they all suffer from the occasions when Dave’s mental illness surfaces and bubbles over.
This book is very well-written. In terms of emotional impact, it is hard at times to read. The author, T. I. Lowe, puts the reader right in the middle of the struggles waiting, as Austin does, in the good times for the other shoe to drop. “It was too good. Too shiny. Too normal. No matter how much I wished, prayed, begged, I knew this season wouldn’t last.”
The story takes place from 1980 through 1988. There is a final chapter that relates how life works out for all of the characters. It makes a fitting conclusion because over the course of the book the reader has gotten to know each of them, understanding why they are the way they are. The pacing is excellent with about two chapters per year presenting cumulative snapshots rather than blow-by-blow descriptions. There is an authentic South Carolina flavor in both plot and language. I highly recommend Under the Magnolias as a tale whose characters resonate and linger long after the final page.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Clean—no inappropriate language, sex, or violence
Publication: May 4, 2021—Tyndale House Publishers
Looking through the innocent lens of adolescence, those happier days were perfection. Sadly, they had an expiration date just like those snack cakes. Happiness staled and nothing was pleasing after that. But just like the expired cakes in a meager season, we had no other choice but to stomach whatever life tossed our way next.
I figured it was a blessing that she could pretend something didn’t happen, but we would both learn later in life that pretending something away was no better than constantly dwelling on it. Both produced impactful wounds that tended to fester in other parts of living.
“Honey, the living creep me out. Not the dead.” He picked up a cosmetic brush and touched it to Mrs. Fannie’s pink cheek. “The living can be cruel, judgmental, quick to complain, and slow to please. The dead never yell or cuss you out. Or call you ugly names.” There was such a sadness to his gentle voice.