Published by William Morrow on August 13, 2019
Source: the publisher
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Following the death of their mother from a botched backwoods abortion, the McAlister daughters have to cope with the ripple effect of this tragedy as they come of age in 1950s Mississippi and then grow up to face their own impossible choices—an unforgettable, beautiful novel that is threaded throughout with the stories of mothers and daughters in pre-Roe versus Wade America.
Life heads down back alleys, takes sharp left turns. Then, one fine day it jumps the track and crashes.
In the fall of 1957, Olivia McAlister is living in Opelika, Mississippi, caring for her two girls, June and Grace, and her husband, Holly. She dreams of living a much larger life–seeing the world and returning to her wartime job at a landing boat factory in New Orleans. As she watches over the birds in her yard, Olivia feels like an “accidental”—a migratory bird blown off course.
When Olivia becomes pregnant again, she makes a fateful decision, compelling Grace, June, and Holly to cope in different ways. While their father digs up the backyard to build a bomb shelter, desperate to protect his family, Olivia’s spinster sister tries to take them all under her wing. But the impact of Olivia’s decision reverberates throughout Grace’s and June’s lives. Grace, caught up in an unconventional love affair, becomes one of the “girls who went away” to have a baby in secret. June, guilt-ridden for her part in exposing Grace’s pregnancy, eventually makes an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile Ed Mae Johnson, an African-American care worker in a New Orleans orphanage, is drastically impacted by Grace’s choices.
As the years go by, their lives intersect in ways that reflect the unpredictable nature of bird flight that lands in accidental locations—and the consolations of imperfect return.
Filled with tragedy, humor, joy, and the indomitable strength of women facing the constricted spaces of the 1950s and 60s, The Accidentals is a poignant, timely novel that reminds us of the hope and consolation that can be found in unexpected landings.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This story takes place in Mississippi in the 1950’s, and Olivia is not enchanted at all by her life. She misses how things were before she married, and she longs to see Paris. She’s so disenchanted that when she finds herself pregnant, she despairs and seeks out an abortion. Olivia does not live through her botched abortion, and her decision has effects on her daughters and husband for many years.
Olivia’s scenes at the beginning of the book are really just the setup for the rest of the story, because most of the page time belongs to Grace and June after the loss of their mother. The story is told with multiple points-of-view, and I’m a huge fan of this structure. Obviously the main characters have perspectives, but there are also chapters from the perspective of regular, everyday people that the girls come in contact with here and there. The extra characters give more information about the issues Grace and June dealt with. They make the story more robust.
There is so much tragedy that come to these girls and this family. They never get over what their mother did, and neither does their father. Grace has severe feelings of guilt and even shame because she feels like she is largely responsible for her mother’s death. She and June carry this burden throughout their childhood and well into their adult lives. It’s heartbreaking and I really feel the weight of this story after I’ve finished. Yes, there are positive exchanges in here and even some chuckles, and I appreciate this look into women’s issues during this time in history, but I feel like all of the heartache and tragedy was just sitting on me while I read. I wanted these characters to be okay. I wanted happiness for them. And it just felt unattainable for the majority of the story.
Beautiful storytelling and a very good story. I expect that the author wanted us to really feel these characters’ lives and that the feelings I have after finishing this one are appropriate ones.