This is such a fun and fascinating book, and I did feel that, even though it could be enjoyed by a very wide audience, there are aspects of the book that are perhaps best appreciated by those of us who've grown up here in the Bluegrass State. So, the format for Book Club this month will be two posts: this week, we'll focus on the Kentucky connections to The Undertaker's Daughter; in two weeks (Thursday the 28th), we'll focus on more thematic, traditional book club questions. Please feel free to comment below, and encourage your friends to pick up with us for the month's second post!
Here are the thoughts and questions that arose for me as I read the book. I'd love to hear your perspective on any of these themes, as well as any discussion you'd like to start! Feel free to discuss in the comments section below this post!!
1. I absolutely loved this passage from Chapter 2: "There were no Appalachian Mountains in this town, nor coal miners, hillbillies, or holler dwellers. Neither were there white fences bordering exclusive horse farms, nor tony Derby breakfasts. It was just a sleepy, little tobacco town..." Did you, as a reader, feel that this description set you in mind of a very specific corner of Kentucky?
2. The story is set in the fictitious Jubilee, in Beacon County, near Lanesboro, yet it isn't all that hard to figure out which Southern and Western Kentucky towns the author is actually referencing. Did you find that this slight fictionalization within the memoir was distracting? Were you googling to see where Mrs. Agnes Davis and the Bibb House Museum were actually located?
3. The Undertaker's Daughter is set in a truly bygone era. I found myself thinking of Southern novels like The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Help in everything from the Jubilee townspeople's views on race to the ladies' devotion to hairspray and proper bridge party food. Lily Tate and her friends' views on Northerners and Catholics felt exclusionary, while the townspeople's views of African-Americans were outright racist. Do you feel like this is an accurate depiction of the attitudes in small Kentucky towns in the 1960s? Do you think things have changed in the past 50 years or so?
4. The depiction of small-town Kentucky life in The Undertaker's Daughter was realistic felt very believable that everyone in Jubilee knew each other's business and the middle class folks gossiped about the Country Club set. Because of this, I often found myself (also a small-town Kentucky girl) gasping when the narrator told her family's secrets. As a writer, I often have that reaction to memoirs that air the writer's dirty laundry, like the works of Pat Conroy. Did you find the small-town setting made the author's revelations of family mental illness, substance abuse, and infidelity more shocking?
5. There's a great line early in The Undertaker's Daughter where the narrator vows that she will not become one of Beacon County's widows. Time and again, she references getting out of Jubilee and making a life for herself elsewhere. Could you relate to young Kate's desire to flee small-town Kentucky and see the world? Were you surprised to learn that she now lives in England?
I can't wait to hear what y'all have to say about these questions, or any other thoughts and ideas you may have about the book!