Review: Going Down South by Bonnie Glover

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover (cover)

Going Down South by Bonnie Glover
One World Books/Ballantine, 2008
$14.00, Trade Paperback - 261 pgs.
ISBN: 0345480910

This is a reading-group book.  You can tell because it's about mothers and daughters, because it has race- and gender-based complications, and because it has Reading Group Questions at the back.  Unfortunately, I don't think I found it as edifying as I was supposed to.  Going Down South has a solid sense of time and place and culture, even while jumping around between them, but is weaker in plot and characterization, which make that sense of the settings more difficult to appreciate and learn from.

The first two sections of the book constitute the Going Down South itself.  They use a car trip from Brooklyn to small-town Alabama as a frame for a series of flashbacks setting up the story, first from the point of view of Olivia Jean, a teenager whose unplanned pregnancy is the cause of the trip (her parents want to hide her away until the baby is born), and then of Daisy, her mother, who hasn't been back to see her mother in Alabama since she was a teenager herself and left home under unpleasant circumstances.  The third section is told from the point of view of Birdie, Daisy's mother and Olivia Jean's grandmother, reflecting back on Daisy's childhood and her own as she waits for her family to arrive.  This car-trip flashback structure is an interesting idea, but in practice, I found that it seriously screws up the pacing of both the reference-time story and the backstory, and I got frustrated with it very quickly.

The second half of the book is structured rather differently, with a floating point of view but a much straighter narrative thread.  There are still plenty of flashbacks -- the three central characters are all working through their issues with themselves and each other, which requires much delving into the past -- but they are spaced in a more conventional fashion.  This improves the pacing, and various other aspects of the storytelling improve as well.  The characters -- all of whom come off as rather stock toward the beginning -- seem more nuanced and original, and the humor rings truer.  (There is also less of the repetition and narratorial summaryishness that further bog down the first sections.)  The ending is satisfying, if predictable, and rounds off the plot arc nicely.

As well as the book-group discussion questions, this edition of Going Down South also includes an interview with the author.  Mostly nothing unexpected, but I did find one thing about it interesting: When the interviewer asked Glover to describe her characters and how she wrote them, she immediately pegged Olivia Jean as a gutsy and intelligent girl who just needs guidance, and said she didn't have any difficulty writing her or imagining her life, whereas she found her mother Daisy -- passionate, bitter, and pretentious -- much harder to understand and to write (though in the end she empathized with her more).  However, from the reading side, I found Olivia Jean something of a cipher, while Daisy's inner life and motivations come through much better (at least in the second half).  There may be a lesson in that, more than in what can be found in the text of the book.

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posted by julia

22 comments; 13 subscribers

Thursday, October 9, 2008 / 03:33:09
To win GUD's copy of Going Down South -- signed by the author! -- post here telling us about the most awful road trip you've ever taken. Entries will be considered through Wednesday, October 22, 11:00 p.m. PDT. Open to anyone in the U.S./Canada.
Saturday, October 11, 2008 / 13:18:31
The worst was a trip from Timmins Ontario,Canada to Wawa ,Ontario using the back roads.It was a nightmare.
Saturday, October 11, 2008 / 18:51:16
well we were traveling 200 miles with two children who go sick and sicker as we went along .
Saturday, October 11, 2008 / 21:54:36
Has to be going from michigan to Oklahoma- in a snowstorm- actually it was Oklahoma back to Michigan but the roads closed and my parents had to leave the car on the highway nad we had to walk to the hotel- ok this was long ago but we had been sitting in the car and stuck- a trooper gave us a ride in his jeep everyone piled in and ontop- there were seven of us and a dog and he could not leave the interstate so he dropped us off within walking distance of the hotel- we were wet cold and ended up with 7 people and one dog in the last room they had- 1 queen that was a smoking room- we had no extra luggage because it was back in the car so we all walked around in our underwear with towels over it- the girls used blankets till we dried- what a mess....that was one of the last family trips we all took together- wonder why..hmm if my dad would have just stopped long ago instead of saying we can make it- yep I know how to drive thru the snow-oh crap- and we lived off of alot of unsusal food- this was before those free breaksfasts, before coffeemakers in rooms and way before microwaves..lesssonnnsss learned- stop if they say its a snowstorm so you are safe and warm and have a place to stay- it could have been fun if they would have stopped- as we stayed there for 2 days...we could of have a fun time at a hotel prepared with our suits and other stuff..that just sucked
Saturday, October 11, 2008 / 22:45:15
The worst road trip I ever took was a time I drove to visit a friend during a huge storm. It was raining so hard I had to pull over several times because I couldn't see a thing, not even the front of my own car!
Saturday, October 11, 2008 / 23:22:32
our car broke down on the way to a campground and we sat there for 4 1/2 hours
Monday, October 13, 2008 / 00:56:58
I busted my glasses in Niagara Falls and had to squint the entire drive home down I-90 and I-79 (I was driving).
Monday, October 13, 2008 / 01:37:42
Driving with my best friend from Seattle to Vegas. The Utah mountains were on fire, so we detoured for an extra half a day. We drove by the mountains at night, and they were smoldering in the darkness; it looked like stars. Complete and total destruction. It was absolutely surreal, and sinisterly beautiful.
Monday, October 13, 2008 / 17:26:39
When I was about 11, we drove from Louisville to Atlanta to visit Six Flags Over Georgia. It was the ONLY trip I've ever taken with my dad that wasn't to visit family, and the ONLY trip I ever got to take a friend with us. We drove down, spent the night, got up bright and early, eager to hit the park. It was closed for renovations.
We turned around and drove home. On the way, we stopped at Ruby Falls. A guy was clamping metal "bumper stickers" to random cars in the parking lot -- "Visit Ruby Falls" or something. My dad told him NOT to put one on our car. Of course, when we came out, there was one on our car.
My dad tried to run over the guy.
Fun trip.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 / 11:35:54
I rode up in the backseat of my friend's parent's car when we went to visit her up at college. IT was an old car and the muffler was broken so it filled the backseat, I got so sick from all the fumes I almost passed out.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 / 21:18:51
The worst road trip was a family vacation throughout Wales. I learned you don't take young children in a rental car while being nervous driving on the wrong side of the road. A day's trip to a castle in a small town was total nightmare. I decided to take everyone for a hike to the castle through the fog. Deciding I needed a waterproof jacket, I switched my current one I was wearing. Unfortunately my car keys did not get switched. Two hungry kids in the middle of nowhere with no way out was horrific. Learned that the heel of the boot can bust a window.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 / 21:23:00
Just have to say--wow, kudos to you for thinking through that situation. :) Something to file away for later should I ever need it. :)
Thursday, October 16, 2008 / 22:38:49
Driving to New Brunswick from Ontario on Dec 25/26 in the middle of a snowstorm. The only time I felt safe was when I was driving behind the snowplow. Cars did pass us and shortly after they passed us , we passed them...they were in the ditch.
Friday, October 17, 2008 / 13:09:55
Oh Good Lawd! This is horrible...I went from NC to CA all by myself, the first time I'd ever gone anywhere, and BY MYSELF! Well, I'd met a cute boy, who it just so happend, his mother lived about 3 hours from me in NC! We decided that he would come live with me to be close to his mother. Instead of flying home, I chose to ride with him across country! My first cross country trip! I was stoked! Well, riding in a car with someone for that long wears on the time we got to my house, we were ready to KILL each other!!! I got a job, and came home from my first day...he had packed all his stuff and left without even leave a note, which was fine by me!!! I've never seen or heard from him since! That taught me a HUGE lesson!
Sunday, October 19, 2008 / 02:46:15
Back in my younger days. It took me 4 hours to get home that should have took about 45 minutes. I wasn't the one who usually drove, and my husband was passed out. I got off on the wrong exit. Boy was I relieved when I seen a sign that was familiar.Please enter me, thank you
Monday, October 20, 2008 / 13:27:37
The worst road trip that I've ever done happened to be one that I decided to do by myself. My husband and I had moved from California to Florida and when we drove across we came in his car and had a van take the rest of our belongings. I left my car at my mother's house because I wasn't going to need it right away and we figured we could just fly back, pick it up and then come across together. Well, things got hectic once we made the move so I decided to fly out to visit my family a few weeks later and I'd just drive back on my own. No big least I thought since my car was only a couple of yrs old and never thought I'd have problems. As it turned out the car started out fine, but when I stopped about midnight at a rest area in Arizona to have a break and call family to let them know all was fine that's when the problem started. I couldn't get the car to go in reverse at all when I started to pull out. So, had to call and get it towed.

It took over 3 hrs to get it towed and when asked where I wanted him to take me I said to the whatever dealership there was near by. So, I dozed off and on the next couple hrs in the car waiting for the dealership to open. I found out it was the transmission and that they could order new one since it was still under warranty, but that I wouldn't have it back til the next day. I ended up being driven to a local hotel since they didn't have a rental they could give me.

Next day...I didn't get the car back til the afternoon and so off I went only to make it back up to the highway and it started acting up again. Managed to get to a gas station and called the towing company again to come get me and the car back to town. I get to the dealership again to only be told it would now be the next day and was driven back to the same hotel I stayed at the night before to wait.

Now the following day arrives and I get the car back and I'm off again. Thankfully after that all that I didn't have any more car problems, but I just wanted to get home and only stopped to take short naps. Made it to Florida in 2 days from there completely exhausted, but thankful I'd finally made it.
Monday, October 20, 2008 / 21:18:13
I went on a trip with the high school band to Washington DC a few years ago and I rode on the family bus. It was the worst 5 days of my life. I'm not kidding you. I couldn't have hated anything worse than that miserable experience. I shudder at the memories.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 / 18:47:27
I watched Gayle and Oprah on television showcasing their road trip; that was the worst. All my road trips have been magnificent!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 / 22:15:07
The worst vacation I have ever had was a trip just prior to my divorce. My husband & I had been separated and decided on one try prior to divorce. We left for Disney World with our 2 children and it was a fiasco from the onset! He left with little money, my son slammed his finger in the door of a motel and cut the tip of his finger off and the doctor would not take our insurance. To top it all off, I caught my husband smoking Pot in the Magic Kingdom!!!What a trip..needless to say, I divorced him and lived happily ever after!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 / 22:16:39
My worst was also my best. My grandson won a trip to Grand Cayman Islands and on our way there he broke out in hives. By the time we landed his face was so swollen you couldn't even recognize him. So our first time ever in a foreign country was a trip to the hospital and they don't accept American medical insurance. So needless to say our free trip cost a little more than I could afford. We had a wonderful time but I sure felt sorry for my grandson.
Thursday, October 23, 2008 / 01:47:00
The awful road trip I've ever taken was from Los Angeles to Pismo Beach. I ended up arriving late at night so I wasn't able to dig for clams. :0(
Friday, December 5, 2008 / 14:34:52
The winner of the raffle for our review copy of Going Down South was rachelfox1981. Enjoy!

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