by Jim Dees – Late Mississippi author Willie Morris didn’t talk to cows (dogs, yes) but he would recognize the poor, rural characters in One Good Mama Bone. The novel, by South Carolina writer Bren McClain, was given the 2017 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction and will be featured on this week’s Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.
In the book, set in Anderson, S.C. in the early 1950s, single step-mother Sarah Creamer takes much comfort from “talks” she has with a cow she calls Mama Red. Sarah unburdens her soul to the beast as she negotiates sexism, crushing poverty and the many trials of farm life. She is raising a boy who was the product of an illicit union between her husband (who drank himself to death) and her best friend and neighbor, Mattie, who killed herself moments after she gave birth.
And you think you have problems.
Willie Morris (1934-1999) lived in Oxford from 1980-90 and wrote four of his two dozen books here. He was many things, a Rhodes Scholar, eloquent writer, deep thinker but also a down-home encourager to young writers (and radio hosts). With the heart of a good old boy, he was equally comfortable with presidents (the elder Bush and Clinton were friends) as well as football coaches, funky movie theatre owners, insurance agents and bartenders.
Ironically, he wasn’t known for his fiction, (My Dog Skip notwithstanding) but some of his non-fiction books like, North Toward Home, are considered modern classics.
One Good Mama Bone may be destined for this same status. The characters are unforgettable and the story is seared into your soul long after reading. One of the judges for the Morris prize who voted for Mama Bone is Oxonian David Crews:
“Our friend Willie Morris would have loved this tale insisting that he spend half the night over whiskey with the author talking about life, sacrifice, grit, love, and perseverance. As Thacker devotees will discover, Bren McLain is a story telling force of nature not just on paper but in her special knack for embodying her characters while reading from her novel.”
We look forward to meeting Bren this Thursday and hearing her read from this prize-winning novel that honors our late buddy, Willie. (By the way, another Oxford connection with the Willie Morris prize is Tom Franklin who won the award in 2010 for his novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter).
Speaking of Oxford connections, on Thursday’s show we’ll bid farewell to jazz pianist Bill Perry, Jr. who will be making his final appearance (at least as a local) before his upcoming move to Boston. The show will also feature Alabama roots musician, Early James and of course our rockin’ house band, the Yalobushwhackers.
Cows and jazz! Roots and bushwhackers! Valentine’s Day! Just another day on the radio…
See yall Thursday-
The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour Thursday, Feb. 14 at 6 pm at Off Square Books (129 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS 38655). FREE admission.
Guests: Author Bren McClain (“One Good Mama Bone”) with jazz pianist Bill Perry, Jr. and Americana duo Early James & the Latest
Hosts: Jim Dees and our house band, the Yalobushwhackers
Radio: WUMS 92.1 FM (Oxford)