In this stunning debut, Paulette Boudreaux takes us to segregated Mississippi in the 1960s and introduces us to Maddy Culpepper, whose family is upended when her mother leaves to care for her sick newborn in a distant hospital. This single event sends Maddy and her three brothers into a spiral. “Even with Daddy’s best efforts,” Maddy tells us, “our daily lives went to pieces in small ways.”
Boudreaux shows us her native Mississippi in a clear and unsentimental light, illuminating the Culpepper family, their neighbors, and their community. We see Maddy’s damaged and alcoholic father, his cronies at the VFW hall, the women at the juke joint where Maddy imagines she might spot the devil himself. We see Maddy’s young brothers, her well-meaning teacher, the skeptical government assistance workers, and neighbors who change every time the rent comes due.
Among these characters, there is not one who can be easily classified or judged, few who are wholly kind or wholly evil. Cumulatively, however, they feed a fascinating narrative that grabs hold of the reader and will not put her down.
In this world, a combination of poverty and cruel circumstance erodes the best of intentions, propelling this fascinating narrative from start to finish. Told in lyrical, lovely prose, the story of Maddy’s coming up is as breathtaking and broad as her view from the top of her favorite mulberry tree.
Paulette Boudreaux is the first recipient of the Lee Smith Novel Prize. A Mississippi native, Boudreaux now lives in Los Gatos, California. She is a member of the English faculty of West Valley College and has published short stories and novel excerpts in national and international literary journals, including Room of One’s Own; Acorn Whistle; Equinox: Writing for a New Culture; In the Margins; and Voices.
She received a bachelor’s in journalism from Northeastern University and a MFA from Mills College.