It was difficult to decide which one, of my current 57 Time Reading Program Special Edition books, to start reading first. Somehow my finger landed on Cross Creek by Marjoire Kinnan Rawlings, and I gently pried the cover open about 30 degrees (the covers are so stiff that it is not possible to fully open the book without breaking them off) and peered in.
Rawlings is best known for her novel, The Yearling, for which she won the Pulitzer prize in 1939. But ten years before that award, she bought an orange grove and house in the small community of Cross Creek in rural Florida and set up housekeeping. The non-fiction Cross Creek is a memoir of her life, the flora, fauna, and neighbors in this very isolated community.
It could have been that I was reading Americanah at the same time, but boy, did this book hit me hard the wrong way. I just could not get past her racist comments on her neighbors, hired help–even friends. To be fair, I don’t think Rawlings views were very unusual for the time or the location. But I just found her comparisons of her black neighbors or help to “dogs” or frequent references to their “primitive” or “savage” natures–and much worse–to be exceedingly off-putting. It was also kind of bewildering considering that she was also discussing how much she depended on these people and often, appreciated them. But clearly, the black folks of this town were not her equals nor could she conceive of a world where they might be. Since this book is a memoir rather than a work of fiction, I was more repelled than had I read a novel with a character espousing similar viewpoints.
If you pop over to Goodreads, you’ll see a slew of 4 and 5 stars handed out for this book. lauding its descriptions of rural living and the lush natural world of rural Florida. And often there is mention of how “dated” the memoir is with regard to its social commentary. While I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got to chapters like “Our Daily Bread” in which Rawlings talked about her great love of cooking, foraging, and local delicacies (easily the most interesting chapter in the book to me), I still did not find these non-social commentary sections strong enough to offset the unfortunate rest of the book. No 4 or 5 stars on my Goodreads page.
So this was not a very auspicious start to my TRP project, but still enjoyed learning about this book and glad to cross it off my list.
Originally published 1933 by Charles Scribner’s Sons
Reprinted with new introduction 1966, Time, Inc.
Cover art by Jim Jonson