MEMPHIS – Tara M. Stringfellow

“The things women do for the sake of their daughters. The things women don’t. The shame of it all.”

I’m still toying with the idea of reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, and I put in several holds at the library.  Since I’ve already read a couple and intended to read a few more from the selections, I figured why not?  Tara M. Stringfellow’s Memphis (The Dial Press 2022) has been on my radar because it was a pretty hyped book last year.  It’s one from the list that was already on my list because I love family sagas, particularly those that follow the women in a family.

And this is a novel of women.  Of mothers.  Of daughters. Of sisters. Of wives. Sections alternate POV and span from 1937 – 2003. I enjoyed the non-linear framework of storytelling and the focus on women, but I wish it had been framed with Miss Dallas and her root magic.  That would have made this an entirely different book, I get that, but I wanted more Miss Dallas.

Memphis was just okay for me, and maybe that’s the curse of an overhyped book.  Much of the description was unnecessarily repetitive, the male characters were underdeveloped caricatures that were either villainized or deified, there were missed opportunities in further developing the city as its own character, and there were also missed opportunities with August’s salon and with the record shop.  Certain things needed more flesh and other things needed a content editor.  Additionally, Miriam seeking government assistance instead of pursuing child support (which the military does not joke about) was a bit unbelievable.  Equally unbelievable was Jax’s response to Joan’s rape; he weaponized it, blamed Miriam, but never seemed to care about his daughter.  This makes sense when you look at how he was depicted as a villain, but then you have Bird come in and talk about how his brother adored those girls.  I understand that two things can be true at once, and it seems that Stringfellow is attempting to bring a little redemption to both Jax and Derek at the end, to paint them as more human and less as monsters, but it’s a half swing.

Overall, it’s a decent debut, and I’ll likely pick up her sophomore attempt.

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