Review: Miss McGhee by Bett Norris

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Review: Miss McGhee by Bett Norris

Postby ElaineB » 08 Jan 2012, 10:01


Miss McGhee
Author: Bett Norris
Bywater Books, 2007

Overall: 4stars

Blurb: When Mary McGhee moved to a small Alabama town shortly after the Second World War, she was sure she could change her life for good: a new job, a new place, and a chance for a new life. But then she met Lila Dubose, the wife of her new employer. Set in the shadow of the civil rights movement, Miss McGhee is a sweeping tale of forbidden love in a turbulent time.

This has been on my wishlist for some time because of the good reviews it got here. The fact that it was published by Bywater, and I was very impressed with their panel at Women's Week, pushed me to finally get it. I liked it a lot. You can read the reviews to get the sense of it. It hit me as the kind of story that needs to be told. It's a bit preachy, yes, but at its heart is a beautiful love story. Of women who were brave enough to try, and stubborn enough to succeed. It's easy to forget how hard it was to be a lesbian back then. This isn't Stone Butch Blues, thankfully, but it felt real. Mary, in revealing herself, says, "I won't say the hell with anyone but myself. And there is no place we could go where it would be any different. We fight it out along this line, or we choose not to fight at all."

The rest of the book, and yes it does plod along in some ways--it took forever for the Klan messages at the beginning of the chapters to mean anything in the story, illustrates that point. Both for lesbians and for the Civil Rights movement. There is a lot beneath the surface of this story, about how and whether to stand up for yourself or others, and if you don't, who will. It worked for me on many levels. Not the least as a tribute to a whole generation of women who paid the price, who found a way to survive or did not. How lucky I was to be born when I was (and where). That the life I enjoy now was impossible just a few decades ago.

A truly impressive first novel.
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