BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘Keepers of the House’ by Shirley Ann Grau

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, host of the long-running Book Stew, a video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, authors, playwrights, and even a cat who survived a tornado and wrote a book about it:

‘Keepers of the House’ by Shirley Ann Grau

The 1964 Pulitzer Prize winning novel reads almost like historical fiction. It has a dreamy quality, but it’s a nightmare for Margaret, a “freejack” woman of Native American and Black ancestry, who meets a much older wealthy white widower, Will Howland, in her hidden backwater community.

Abandoned by her mother and seeing no life for herself in the crowded home of her grandfather, she moves in with Will and they build a life together with their four children. As Will is the wealthiest man in the area and has established most of the businesses that employ the residents, many community objections to their relationship are suppressed.

Margaret insists on sending their children away to boarding schools in New Orleans at a young age, where they pass for white. Will’s daughter from his first marriage leaves her husband and returns home with her daughter Abigail, who adores her grandfather and accepts Margaret as housekeeper/stepmother, admiring the deep love between them.

She ends up marrying a man with political ambitions, and when he runs for office, the relationship between Will and Margaret, now both deceased, is exposed by Margaret’s son, and wrecks his campaign and their marriage.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Will, Abigail, and Margaret, though her voice is the quietest, and that is the only flaw I can see. I think this book bears comparison to Tony Morrison’s “Sula” and to the novels of Carson McCullers. The haunted South and its deep seated legacy of inherited misery is here in all its swamps and screams and secrets.

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