This is the second book I’ve read by Robert Hicks. The first was Widow of the South and that was a part of my 2019 reading list. His titles are excellent. Widow of the South was interesting because the main character, Carrie McGavock, was not in fact a widow. Her husband was alive and well. But some say that the Confederacy died at the Battle of Franklin. Carrie buried many of the dead who perished on her land. Therefore, she became the Widow of the South.
For The Orphan Mother, Hicks observes that no word exists for a mother who loses her only son. Again, the main character in this book, Mariah Reddick (also, Carrie’s slave in Widow of the South), is not an orphan. She is a mother, but the title plays on the fact that she is an orphaned mother in a way having lost her only son. It’s just brilliant. His titles alone really make you think.
I love reading Hicks because he writes historical fiction that takes place 150+ years ago not far from where I live. Franklin, TN was the location of a major civil war battle, and that is covered in Widow of the South. Nowadays, it’s voted one of America’s best small towns. It has a Main Street with shops that are two stories, three stories at most, with a number of festivals throughout the year. I love Franklin and could see myself living here the rest of my life.
So it’s such a pleasure to read stories that take place in this town. Hicks’ main characters were real people and he takes what he knows about them to create a larger tapestry. The Orphan Mother makes you consider what it would have been like for former slaves to live in the same towns after the Civil War when they were free. What did that freedom look like? What kind of jobs would they have done? What were their legal rights? Hicks tackles a number of these questions centered around a riot in the main square of Franklin in 1867.
Hicks is a great writer. I underlined so many different sentences or phrases that captured something deep. One of my favorites came towards the end:
The first thing Mariah felt on hearing this was exhaustion. She had been like any other in the world, a world full of collectors of fact, who mistake fact for the true substance of life, who mistakenly believe that life is an infinity of fact, and that wisdom is the artful arrangement of such facts. She had known better, and yet she had pursued the facts anyway.