Set between 1937 and 2003, Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow is a generational novel detailing the lives of four southern Black women over three generations, and the difficult choices they make to reclaim their lives.
Aptly, this novel opens with the Norths’ family house. “The house looked living.” This mystical house, built by Joan’s grandfather and home to generations. Meeting place for civil rights activists. Hub for the best Black salon experience. Hell wherein a child’s nightmare transpired; haven wherein solace was gifted. But all this comes with time.
Flipping among perspectives between Joan, her mother Miriam, Miriam’s sister August, and matriarch Hazel, Memphis recounts three generations of a southern Black family. Sweeping across decades from chapter to chapter, we grow to understand what each of these women have endured and how they have persevered, carving out their joy in a complicated world which is so greedy to take.
Young Joan is an artist with the burden of trauma. Miriam is course-correcting a troubled marriage, her two daughters and dog in tow. August is a single mother running her own business. Hazel is a grieving widow, seamstress, and nurse. Throughout each chapter, as the timeline and perspective shifts back and forth, their lives are colored in by Stringfellow’s visceral prose, culminating in a supple sweet tribute to southern Black womanhood. The beauty of the bond these women have shines through, united in their shared commitment.
Not only are the women palpably painted with verbiage, but the setting of Memphis is teeming with a kinetic aura. Stringfellow’s poetic tongue characterizes the changing landscape of Memphis while still delivering concise prose. The author accomplishes in fewer than 250 pages what some cannot even manage with 400 or more pages—-to be true, the amount of substance this book contains is shocking for its relatively brief form, while simultaneously never feeling overwhelming in content.
Memphis is a hard-hitting and mature generational novel which will be a success with most readers.
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