Review: 'The Undertaker's Daughter', Kate Mayfield



★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Undertaker's Daughter // Kate Mayfield
• Published January 13th 2015 by Gallery Books

What if the place you called home happened to be a funeral home? Kate Mayfield explores what it meant to be the daughter of a small-town undertaker in this fascinating memoir evocative of Six Feet Under and The Help, with a hint of Mary Roach's Stiff.

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Why did I read this book? It's about a girl who lives in a funeral home, it couldn't possibly be more up my alley.

Kate Mayfield's memoir, The Undertaker's Daughter, is real-life Southern Gothic. It tells the story of... you guessed it, Kate, as she spends her childhood among caskets and embalming fluid. Outside, the Civil Rights Movement pushes against the old ways of her very small, very segregated Kentucky hometown. Everybody's got secrets, but they're not often mentioned - and it's often down to the undertaker to bury them as discreetly as possible.

In telling her story, Kate Mayfield ended up telling the story of an entire cast of remarkable characters, from the ladies who gathered around her mother's table to play bridge, to the old rich woman who only ever wore red - her town's very own Miss Havisham. There was room to take this subject matter (small town funerals!) and build something sordid out of it, but this book seems to have come out into the world with nothing but respect. Perhaps even grace.

The author's voice toes the line between creepy and cute, and I felt a lot closer to her than I'd originally thought I would. I'm only a reader. I cannot tell you whether this book is honest, but I can tell you it feels honest. It also hit me quite close to home - that constant struggle between sticking to one's small town roots or spreading one's wings into the unknown is a very real, very authentic one. I connected with Kate's ideals. I was somewhat inspired by her take on life.

So let's just say it once and for all, I loved this book, and I'm going to order it as soon as I post this review. (it's going to look great on my shelf, right next to The American Way Of Death, where it belongs)


NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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