The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin (Harper Perennial, April 27, 2010), 426 pages
In 1963, Florence Irene Forrest (That’s with two Rs, make a note.) lives in segregated Millwood, Mississippi. Her father can’t seem to stick to any job, until he begins selling burial insurance. Her mother sneaks trips to the local bootlegger while making ends meet by baking cakes. Florence spends most of her time with her grandparents’ longtime maid, Zenie.
The Queen of Palmyra is a well-written, compelling story. (I can’t really say it’s great or I loved it because of the story it tells.) The content of the story made me queasy at times, and I had to put it down and walk away for awhile. It’s also terribly sad. I guess you don’t pick up a novel like this one to be uplifted, but still.
Part of my struggle, I think, is that Gwin reveals much to the reader that Florence doesn’t comprehend. Somehow this makes the dread of the inevitable ends that much stronger. It also seemed vaguely creepy at points.
On a lighter note, I did love all the talk of diagramming sentences!
I’m drawn to Southern stories of this time period. This debut novel is an excellent, worthy addition to this category of books, but it’s not my favorite book of its type.
About the author
Minrose Gwin is the author of the 2004 memoir Wishing for Snow. She teaches contemporary fiction at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s working on a book about Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
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