Page From a Tennessee Journal is the first novel from former Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Francine Thomas Howard. This is one of the first of previously self-published books being relaunched by the AmazonEncore program. I think it's a very fitting choice. Howard brings us into the lives of the white farm owning couple of Alexander and Eula McNaughton and the Black sharecropping family of John and Annalaura Welles. Set in rural east Tennessee in 1913, the story of these four people as individuals and as couples unfolds.
Alexander and John are both in love with the same woman yet neither knows how to appropriately show their affection without leaving her hurt emotionally and physically. And for one the love is forbidden which is the major source of conflict in this novel. The author's depiction of the lives of sharecroppers would make a good argument of why this practice was as detrimental to Blacks as, if not actually worse than, slavery. The squalid living conditions and unfair arrangements for payments and advances against labor were deplorable. Another social issue tackled is the marginalization of women. The status of the rural Southern woman was very bleak for both Blacks and whites. They both dealt with philandering husbands which was acceptable amongst their social class and being silenced. This was not news to me however, Howard's portrayal was like re-opening a wound and I was angered so much when this matter was brought up. John Welles angered me most with his self-righteous attitude even after he left his wife and children with nothing to seek his fortune. These women had to endure everything thrown at them while keeping up the dutiful, loyal wife routine without so much as an eye roll. Eula does get her opportunity to use her voice in her journal even if it is only for herself. Annalaura even gets a bit of poetic justice in the end when she gets to make a life changing decision on her terms.
Reading this in two sittings, Howard's writing was well paced and never really hit any lulls. She has written great nuanced characters and the story felt like she was comfortable in the narrative as it's not forced. And I always applaud those who bravely take on whorehouses and Southern dialect without it all coming off as trite. Though it's hard for me to digest tales involving the disparaging treatment of women, it was worth it and deserves every accolade it has coming. Yes, I'm being prophetic. I do hope to see this also become part of the scholarly canon of fiction on women's studies. I highly recommend this entertaining and poignant debut novel.