If you liked The Help, then read The Well and the Mine. Personally, I liked it better, it’s quietly thought provoking. The book starts with a dramatic action, a woman drops a baby down a well, and all the characters struggle with the event. These characters are ordinary people, very much like someone the reader knows. There isn’t a crusade, just regular people dealing with a terrible economy, racism, and a tragic event. When I was reading it, the book I kept thinking about wasn’t The Help, but To Kill a Mockingbird.
Gin Phillips joined the Cafe Conversation at the Beverly Hills Literary Escape with Ethan Canin, David Ulin and Mona Simpson. I wondered how she would do as a first time novelist with three authors who have traveled around the book tour block several times. She more than held her own. I heard her again at the Saturday historical fiction lunch with Tatjana Soli. Here are a few of her comments:
- Economic Similarity? Many consider the book timely (even before the Chilean miner crisis) because it is set in and was published during severe economic downturns. Phillips understands the connections people are making but described a much more frightening world in 1931. The society her characters live in do not have a safety net. There isn’t Social Security, disability, or Medicare. If a miner was hurt or disabled the family was facing an abyss of suffering, many were quickly homeless and starved to death. Occasionally the community could help, but the community couldn’t provide long term assistance. Moreover, there wasn’t even a minimum wage or a limit on the number of hours in a working day. Canin quipped “I saw a bumper sticker recently that said “Unions, the people who brought you weekends.” Her characters lived in a much harsher world.
- Racism. The mines were the only place in Alabama where black and white men worked together. Segregation was so strong that the two races rarely mixed which resulted in each race believing the stereotype of the other. Working together complicated these racist opinions. Phillips found from her own reading that frequently the South is depicted as a vast lynching ground under Jim Crow laws, or a character shows up akin to a modern day Bill Clinton. Neither is realistic. Read the rest of this entry »