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…
In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.
I’m not quite sure what enticed to me this book; maybe it was the unusual subject matter or the dark cover but it was a book that wasn’t just filled with death but also life and hope.
As the blurb suggests this is the memoir of a young girl who lives above her father’s funeral home business in small town USA in the Fifties and Sixties at the time of segregation. This is a really interesting story about a subject that is often considered taboo and not discussed until necessary but please don’t go thinking that because it’s set in an undertaker’s that it is all dreary, upsetting and dark; in some parts it is but there are also some real uplifting tales and because most is from a child’s perspective it’s not too explicit in the procedures following death.
I suppose you could call this a coming of age novel in that it’s also a young girls realisation that her father isn’t perfect and having her ideals and idealistic view of the world knocked back to having black boyfriends etc in a time when this would have caused great outrage and just wouldn’t have been expected.
There are some really interesting characters and tales in this book, including Frank and his relationship with Miss Agnes and the comfort that both found from their relationship, the other undertaker’s and those who work with the dead!
I had great respect for Kate, her views, standing up for Jemma and dealing with Evelyn, going and doing what she believed in and following her dreams and I felt bereft when the family moved; it was like everything that had made them who they were had been removed and I think this affected Frank and his identity.
From the epilogue we learn from others second hand about Kate’s father and his past, I wasn’t expecting this as a reader, this was actually what made it seem more like a memoir than the book itself, this was research and I totally understand why the author would want to do it but I’m not sure I needed to find out, I’d enjoyed reading the story beforehand.
Overall, this is a beautifully written story which reminded me of the movie My Girl, and well worth a look.
Many thanks to the publisher for approving for me for an ARC via Netgalley.
Connect with the author Kate Mayfield via