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  • Written by Bonnie Glover
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  • Written by Bonnie Glover
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Going Down South

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A Novel

Written by Bonnie GloverAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bonnie Glover

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: July 29, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-50738-9
Published by : One World/Ballantine Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From the author of The Middle Sister comes a heartwarming tale of second chances and the unparalleled love between mothers and daughters.

When fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean finds herself in the “family way,” her mother, Daisy, who has never been very maternal, springs into action. Daisy decides that Olivia Jean can’t stay in New York and whisks her away to her grandmother’s farm in Alabama to have the baby–even though Daisy and her mother, Birdie, have been estranged for years. When they arrive, Birdie lays down the law: Sure, her granddaughter can stay, but Daisy will have to stay as well. Though Daisy is furious, she has no choice.

Now, under one little roof in the 1960s Deep South, three generations of spirited, proud women are forced to live together. One by one, they begin to lose their inhibitions and share their secrets. And as long-guarded truths emerge, a baby is born–a child with the power to turn these virtual strangers into a real, honest-to-goodness family.

Praise for Going Down South:


“Long live Olivia Jean, Daisy, and Birdie! These three daughters, mothers, and women are smart, feisty, and funny. Their stories will break your heart in the very best way. I absolutely loved Going Down South!”
—Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey

Excerpt

Part One

Olivia Jean



Her father, Turk, went down first, holding his work boots by the strings with his overnight kit tucked under one arm. He walked on his toes, taking the seventh step down with a side maneuver because he knew it creaked. He had learned his lesson the hard way from her mother, Daisy, waiting at the top of the stairs one night about five years ago. His foot strayed and pressed ahead when he should have gone to the left or the right. He might have made it past her if it hadn’t been for that step. She had dozed off, and there were ways to get around Daisy when she was asleep. But he was in no state to remember all of the things he should have remembered. And besides, Daisy was sitting with her legs flung across the top of the landing just so she could catch him. Clutched in her right hand was a broom leaning forward at a cockeyed slant, straw bottom down and ready to do damage.

That night in March, Olivia Jean had just passed her tenth birthday and should have been asleep when he touched lucky stair number seven and it whined loud enough to wake her mother. Daisy grunted, choking on a snore, and was on her feet lightning quick without even rubbing her eyes or wiping the thin line of drool at the corner of her mouth. She gripped the broom in both hands, turned it upside down, and swung it at Turk’s copper-skinned head. He leaned away in time but she started at him again. Her robe fell open, and Olivia Jean saw long, thick legs under a nightgown that stopped near her coochie, and then one of her titties fell out as she lifted her arm and aimed again. Olivia Jean was crouched at the keyhole of her bedroom door, jaw wide, the scene surprising her so much that she banged her head against the doorknob as she tried to get a better view.

Daisy kept swinging as if she were trying to get at a spider in the corner or a big, fat cockroach that always appeared out of nowhere when company came to visit. There was rage in her swinging, rage reserved for bugs, bad impressions, and drunken husbands. Then her other titty bounced free, and Turk fell back, clutching the railing. It seemed as though he was as surprised as Olivia Jean was. In all her days Olivia Jean had never seen Daisy’s girl parts, and seeing them then, when her mother was in the middle of trying to kill her daddy, was enough to freeze Olivia Jean right where she was—on her knees, peeking into the dim hallway when she should have been curled up asleep with her Raggedy Ann tucked under her arm.

That was when Olivia Jean took a deep breath, stood up, opened the door, and ran out of her bedroom. Turk wasn’t grabbing the broom or telling Daisy to stop or trying to move away or anything. He had leaned back, dropped his arms, and let Daisy continue to hit him with the broom across his shoulders, moving him backward as if she were going to push him down the stairs. Olivia Jean knew someone was going to call the police if they didn’t stop. At four in the morning people should be in bed, going to bed, or at least thinking about going to bed, not on a rampage like Daisy was, beating Turk with the straw end of a broom while she danced around the hallway half-naked.

So when Daisy raised her broomstick higher, above her shoulders, aiming for the top of his head, Olivia Jean jumped in front of her father. No one moved. The only sound had been the swish of the broom as it waved through the air and its connection with Turk’s body—a muffled whack, whack, whack—and, too, the sound of Daisy’s heavy breathing from all the work she was doing beating Turk.

Now things were still except for Daisy’s heaving shoulders and breasts. Olivia Jean felt her heart pounding so hard that she thought it might thud out of her chest.

Then Daisy smiled—one of those low-down smiles she used when she punished Olivia Jean—aimed the broom, and almost hit her daughter; the straw brushed the air, tickling the end of Olivia Jean’s nose. Olivia Jean had felt the panic rising in the pit of her stomach as the broom swept toward her. Daisy laughed when Olivia Jean flinched. Daisy’s breathing was hard, and Olivia Jean smelled the last cigarette Daisy had smoked and the Pond’s face cream her mother rubbed into her elbows every night. She dropped the broom as Olivia Jean tried to shield Turk, her arms thrown out so that she covered a fraction of his belly. Daisy was giving him the evil eye the whole time, but he was busy ducking behind Olivia Jean as though Daisy were still hitting him, his hands in the air trying to block the broom she was no longer swinging at him. He didn’t know Daisy had stopped. All of his moving almost made Olivia Jean fall off the landing; his daughter had to plant herself in front of him, solidly, and not move. Olivia Jean was close enough to smell his body, which reeked of underarm musk and day-old pee. She wrinkled her nose and tried not breathing for seconds at a time.

Olivia Jean moved away once the broom rested at Daisy’s side. But she stayed near, trying not to glance at her mother’s face, since it was frightening when the older woman tightened her lips, raised her eyebrows, and sucked in her cheeks. Olivia Jean was scared of what would come next, but she wasn’t going to let Turk stand up to Daisy all by himself. He was her daddy, and even if Daisy did turn the broom on her, Olivia Jean was determined to take the beating. At ten years old, she loved Turk Stone with every ounce of heart she had in her thin body. And hated her mother with equal passion.

Daisy moved in close to Turk. She pointed a long finger at his chest. He had stopped twitching, but the eye he was able to keep open was streaked with red and the other was half-closed. He fell back against the wall.

“Damn, girl, stop slingin’ them things around. I can’t think straight watchin’ ’em titties jumpin’ at me all over the place. Close your robe,” Turk said.

“Turk, I ain’t playing with you, coming up in this house all hours of the night. You better stop this tomcatting around or I’ma stop you.” Her voice never rose. It whispered slick across the hallway. The righteousness of it made Olivia Jean tremble. Daisy turned with the broom and swished back into the apartment. The girl heard the dead bolt turn with a sharp click, and then Turk and Olivia Jean were alone in the hallway.

“Don’t worry, baby,” he said as he sank to the floor on the second step. Olivia Jean sat down by him. He laid his head on her lap. Again she held her breath, because he smelled. As soon as he fell asleep, so that his head became heavy on her lap and his mouth opened with one long inhale that became a gasp for air, he woke himself up. “She ain’t gonna stay mad. She let us in by day.” Olivia Jean counted to 3,563 before the door opened.

Now Daisy was in flannel pajamas buttoned up to the top.

“Next time, don’t get in the middle of grown-folk business.” Daisy didn’t meet Olivia Jean’s gaze. She held a half-smoked cigarette in one hand along with her favorite ashtray, the one she swore was good crystal given to them by a Mr. Shorty Long when she and Turk married. This was the same ashtray she would sometimes throw at him when he came home from work too late.

“This ashtray,” Daisy would say after each bout of throwing it at Turk, “is a testament to good, quality workmanship. The kind you don’t get these days.” There were dents in the wall and chipped linoleum on the floor from where Mr. Shorty Long’s present had landed, but never even a hairline fracture in the crystal itself. Olivia Jean didn’t know if it was a testament to good workmanship or just plain dumb luck that nothing had happened to it. She did know enough to stay out of the way when Daisy aimed at Turk, since Daisy didn’t have a good aim.

Holding the ashtray in one hand and the cigarette in the other, she twisted a thumb in Olivia Jean’s direction, her signal for Olivia Jean to hit the road, go to bed. It wasn’t easy moving Turk’s head from her lap. Daisy didn’t help, but Olivia Jean didn’t expect help from her.

When the girl crept out of bed the next morning and peeped in the stairwell, Turk was still there, a blanket thrown over him, now using Daisy for a pillow. Olivia went back into her bedroom, slammed the door, and got ready for school.

That night in late August as they slipped out of their apartment and down the stairs, Daisy made Turk carry his shoes so his footsteps were barely heard, but there were other noises coming from his body. Because he was so big and uncoordinated, when he walked down the stairs his shoulders bumped against the wall, and his breathing was loud, like a fish gasping for air.

Olivia followed him with her traveling bag, but not too close. She owned one suitcase, a pink one with a poodle on the front that had real hair and two glued-on pink barrettes. The suitcase kept bumping her legs as she walked down the narrow flight of stairs.

Daisy shored up the rear, and every few steps she told the other two to “hush up” as though Turk, a grown man, and Olivia Jean, a teenager, were children on a field trip. Daisy was dressed especially for sneaking out of their apartment; she wore a tan A-line dress cinched at the waist with a wide belt, a camel- colored scarf over her head, and big rhinestone-studded sunglasses. In the middle of the night. Olivia Jean wanted to ask about the sunglasses, but she already knew what her mother would say: “Olivia Jean, the first thing people notice about you is your clothes. You’ve got to learn how to make a good impression.”
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Bonnie J. Glover

Bonnie J. Glover and Barb Kuroff first met in 1999 at the Florida Suncoast Writers’ Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, when Ms. Kuroff was a senior editor at F & W Books. They have been friends ever since.

Barb Kuroff: What was your inspiration for writing this book?

Bonnie J. Glover: A number of years ago I read Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. It is a beautiful book, masterfully written, about a woman who has to make some of the same choices Daisy Stone has to make about the man in her life and about her child. While reading Bastard Out of Carolina, I thought about how different women may make different decisions, depending on an infinite number of variables. I wondered what would happen if I wrote about a character with challenges similar to those of the mother in Allison’s novel, but who handled things in another way. I knew that the themes of motherhood and choice were going to figure in Going Down South, but I didn’t know exactly how the novel was to come together.

BK: How important is setting in Going Down South?Why did you choose to move the story “down south”?

BG: Many families in the late 1950s and 1960s were faced with the same type of dilemma as the Stones faced in Going Down South: what to do with a pregnant child? The stigma was very real, even in the so-called liberal cities such as New York and especially in communities such as the one Olivia Jean grew up in where people know one another and looked after children in the neighborhood. In those days, families oftentimes did ship their daughters to relatives “down south” until after the baby arrived. Then the baby was “adopted” by another relative, and the actual birth mother was treated as a sibling, an aunt, or a cousin. There were also “homes” for unwed mothers, but those were often expensive and beyond the reach of black families.

So Olivia Jean is forced to leave the environment that she knows well and the likely censure of her northern community for a supposedly safer home in Cold Water Springs, Alabama. In essence, Olivia Jean moves down south because many of her contemporaries would have done the same thing if they had unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

BK: Going Down South deals with some weighty themes, including sexism, racism, abortion, and rape. What would you say is the overall theme in Going Down South and why?

BG: While all of these themes are important, I believe that Going Down South is about the ties that bind us to our children. If we are committed parents, we make sacrifices. And a piece of paper doesn’t guarantee continued love. If that were the case, couples would be scrambling to get that paper. I wanted to show how the weight of all of the problems that people experience in the real world will affect the family structure. These problems may even destroy the unit that is in place. Or the family may be resilient enough to survive, albeit in some mutated fashion.

BK: Do you have a favorite character in the novel?

BG: I like all three of my main female characters for different reasons. Olivia Jean is gutsy: She doesn’t know what she’ll have to face being a single mother in a very repressive society, but she’s willing to take the chance. Daisy is realistic: She makes the same choice as her daughter but uses a man to bolster and take care of her. And then there is Birdie. Perhaps she makes the most difficult choice of the three women– sleeping with the enemy in plain sight–and gets punished over and over for her transgressions. So I would probably say that Birdie is my favorite character. In many ways she is the strongest, and yet she is also the most joyous.

BK: Are any of the characters in Going Down South based on real people? Which character do you identify with most closely?

BG: I think, in a lot of ways the characters in Going Down South are bits of women whom I have known over the years. I am always looking at people and how they interact, especially with their children. I have seen a lot of mothers like Daisy, who have a difficult time parenting when there are other issues intruding in their lives and perhaps even overwhelming them. People with Birdie’s disposition are rarer, but I have come across some women who have a joy in their hearts that isn’t mitigated by the wear and tear of life. And I have met a great many Olivia Jeans, who need guidance and friends to help them along the way.

I know I said earlier that Birdie was my favorite character, but I actually identify more closely with Daisy. Perhaps a better word for what I feel about Daisy is empathy. She lives in a world that she believes is secure and yet it isn’t; it’s very fragile, and she is holding on by a thread. Her husband haunts the streets; her daughter is pregnant at fifteen. She has to feel that her situation is desperate and that it is, in large part, her own fault. Her initial solution is to send Olivia Jean away and make things right with Turk. She can’t see past the man she married at fifteen to a daughter who needs her guidance. I understand her in a way that perhaps I don’t understand Birdie, who has not let the troubles of her life make her bitter or mean-spirited.

BK: Which character was hardest for you to write?

BG: Daisy was the hardest for me to write. She was almost a blank slate for a long time until I started to understand her motivations. I had to do a great deal of thinking about Daisy and the adversity she must have endured that shifted her mind-set to the point where she was not a very good parent to Olivia Jean. How can you be happy with anyone else if you are not happy with yourself? If you have felt abandoned at every turn in your life, how would you handle a relationship with your child?

Maybe I had to think about Daisy for so long before I was able to shape her because she was the closest to me in age; she had the husband and the teenager. We had so many things in common, and yet her approach to life was different from mine. I had to envision why this was the case. Neither Birdie’s nor Olivia Jean’s lives were as difficult to imagine. They were almost formed from the moment I started to write.

BK: How would you describe the relationship between Birdie and Lupe?

BG: In many ways they don’t have a very complicated relationship. Despite Birdie’s wild character, I think she feels at home with Lupe. And perhaps he’s the type of man she needed after the turbulence of Shorty Long and their ill-fated marriage. A few years ago, Patti LaBelle had a song entitled “The Right Kinda Lover,” and in it she sings, “A good old man, that’s what I got.” To me, that line sums up Lupe. He’s a good man who loves Birdie. And because he loves her, he accepts and loves her family also.

BK: Did you have trouble envisioning a household with three women, since you don’t have any sisters or daughters?

BG: Absolutely not. I have a lot of girlfriends who have sisters and daughters. I love to watch them all interact. One friend of mine, in particular, has three sisters, and while they are often playful and loving, some of the funniest times I’ve been privy to have been when they are in the midst of a family squabble. The scene at dinner where Birdie and Olivia Jean gang up on Daisy so that Daisy leaves the table might have come directly from my friend and her family. Sisters seem able to vanquish one another with folded arms and mean looks. My brothers would have laughed at me if I had ever tried anything like that on them.

BK: Food plays an important role in Going Down South. Do you have a sense of why this is so?

BG: During the 1950s and early 1960s, the dinner table was an important part of American culture, and certainly Southern culture. In Going Down South we see the characters progress from not sharing their meals together to mealtimes becoming a vital focus and revitalization for the family. The preparation and eating of food becomes a foundation from which the women begin to grow their family anew. When Birdie, Daisy, and Olivia Jean finally move into the big house and their meals become more formal, there is a sense that this ritual will continue and that the family will persevere.

BK: The male characters in Going Down South are mostly in the background. Why is this so?

BG: This is a book about women and mothers. Although men play a substantial role in their lives, the book depicts the struggle of these women to find strength in and from one another. Turk features very prominently in the lives of Daisy and Olivia Jean. Shorty Long is a tragic figure in Going Down South. He is a man haunted by the fact that he has to give up the love of his life because he is most interested in saving his entire family. And, of course, there is Reverend Walker, Preston, and Lupe Rawlins. So men are crucial to the novel but remain in the background so that the women protagonists may be more visible and their stories told.

BK: You’ve talked about identifying with Daisy and admiring Birdie. What, if anything, do you have in common with Olivia Jean?

BG: Olivia Jean and I both share the love of reading. When I was younger, there was no better thing for me to do than to put my nose in a book and imagine I was somewhere other than where I was. Now it’s the same thing. I can lose myself in a good book at the drop of a hat. Growing up, the first novel I recall reading was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I progressed to Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and, finally, in my early teens, discovered the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes became my favorite poet, and I spent hours reading his words aloud in a small hallway downstairs that led to the front steps of our two-story apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. I thought I wanted to be an orator, but I couldn’t figure out how someone got paid to make speeches.

Now I read an eclectic mix of writers. I admire Ha Jin immensely for his ability to create a picture with very few words. I believe that Katherine Dunn is a genius; Geek Love is one of my favorites of all time. Zora Neale Hurston was a wonderful talent. I’ve been reading a great deal of Octavia Butler, a writer we lost much too soon, and some short stories of Toni Cade Bambara. I also admire Jamaica Kincaid, Louise Erdrich, and, of course, Maya Angelou.

Reading has helped me broaden my horizons and believe that anything is possible. It does the same for Olivia Jean. Reading makes the unbearable bearable, while putting a taste for a different type of life just beyond reach. It would be fair to say, at least of myself, that reading whetted my appetite for more, which in turn caused so many other wonderful things to happen in my life because I wanted to be fed.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How does history repeat itself with the three women in Going Down South? What does Daisy inherit from Birdie, and Olivia Jean from Daisy and Birdie? How does this compare to the lessons and characteristics that have been passed down in your own family?

2. How would you describe Birdie and Olivia Jean’s relationship? Why is their relationship so different from Daisy and Birdie’s?

3. How would you describe the tension between Daisy and Olivia Jean? Daisy and Birdie? How is Olivia Jean’s relationship with Birdie different from the others?

4. Why do you think Shorty Long does not try to stop Daisy from leaving Cold Water Springs?

5. Turk desperately wants a son. Do you think this has to do with the era, or, in your experience, do most men still think they want sons? How, if at all, is Turk changed by being a grandfather? How has fatherhood changed the men in your life?

6. Olivia Jean has to make a momentous decision about whether or not to continue her pregnancy. How much of her choice is motivated by social climate in the early 1960s, and how much by her inability to appreciate the nature of the decision she was making? Do you think her decision would be different if she were a teenager today?

7. Why do Shorty Long and Birdie feel compelled to end their relationship? Can you imagine a way in which they might have stayed together?

8. How is Birdie changed by her time in jail? What do you think she learns in “the big house”?

9. How would you characterize Daisy’s relationship with the men in her life?

10. Why is Turk so important to Daisy? How does their relationship evolve? Do you see their marriage as successful?

11. Were you surprised by Percy Walker’s involvement in the women’s lives? Why do you think he disavows Olivia Jean when she goes to visit him?

12. What role does Lupe play in each of the women’s lives? Why is Daisy so wary of him?

13. Why do you believe Shorty Long insisted on having dinner with Daisy and Birdie every Sunday? Do you think he achieved what he intended to achieve? Why or why not?

14. How did your perceptions of each character change as the story progressed? Which of the women changes the most over the course of the novel?

15. Which of the three women do you relate to the most and why?


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