The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Claire Fullerton: “One Good Mama Bone” (book discussion)

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Southern Legitimacy Statement: Being from Memphis, Tennessee, I am an avid reader of Southern writers. Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons, Donna Tartt, and Ron Rash are among my favorites; all tell a tale in incomparable language, and all speak to the soul of my Southern sensibilities. I’m sharing a book review with The Mule of a novel penned by a writer from Anderson, South Carolina, whom I came across at The Pat Conroy Literary Festival, in Beaufort, South Carolina, last October. Upon exchanging pleasantries with the author, Bren McClain, I discovered she had such a down-home, Southern spin to her every word, that I decided whatever it is she’s selling, I’m buying. Her first novel, One Good Mama Bone did not disappoint, and I am sharing my review here for those that love a good Southern story.

One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain

Once you attune yourself to the voice of this emotionally evocative story, it’ll submerge you in language like water running in a creek bed. Author Bren McClain takes the reader to a down on its luck farm, in the esoteric pocket of rural 1950’s Anderson, South Carolina and delivers lines, such as “Get the by God out of my clean yard” and “He’d probably be drunk as a coot and trying to have relations with his common law.”

It is McClain’s uncompromising use of language that gives us the consciousness of each character in this purpose driven story, who are all linked to each other by the common pursuit of raising a steer to enter into the 1952 Fat Cattle Show and Sale, with dreams of winning the monetary prize awarded to its Grand Champion. Every character has its own agenda, and the best and worst of human nature is depicted as we follow the motivation of each principal character to the destination of one fateful day.

One Good Mama Bone opens with a birth’s gripping drama and never turns the reader loose throughout its breath-catching, suspenseful build. It gives us a protagonist in single mother Sarah Creamer, who doggedly fights the constraints of poverty and wrestles with her own beaten down identity, all in the name of selfless love for her young son, Emerson Bridge. Sarah’s quest tugs at the heartstrings with the lure of her incremental maternal awakening, as reflected in her relationship with a mother cow named Mama Red.

That this story contains a nemesis in the contentious, self-serving cattleman Luther Dobbins, who throws up one heart-stopping obstacle after another on the road to Sarah and Emerson Bridges’ goal keeps the pages turning to the very end.

I loved this book for the mood that descended every time I returned to its pages. It’s a rare book that hands you a life you can slip into, and an even rarer writer that’ll give you a million reasons to do it.