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The Keepers of the House

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise. Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howl Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise. Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howland, but not all of it. When shocking facts come to light about her late grandfather William’s relationship with Margaret Carmichael, a black housekeeper, the community is outraged, and quickly gathers to vent its fury on Abigail. Alone in the house the Howlands built, she is at once shaken by those who have betrayed her, and determined to punish the town that has persecuted her and her kin. Morally intricate, graceful and suspenseful, The Keepers of the House has become a modern classic.


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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise. Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howl Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise. Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howland, but not all of it. When shocking facts come to light about her late grandfather William’s relationship with Margaret Carmichael, a black housekeeper, the community is outraged, and quickly gathers to vent its fury on Abigail. Alone in the house the Howlands built, she is at once shaken by those who have betrayed her, and determined to punish the town that has persecuted her and her kin. Morally intricate, graceful and suspenseful, The Keepers of the House has become a modern classic.

30 review for The Keepers of the House

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau is the October 2016 pre 1980 read for the Southern Literary Trail group on Goodreads. The 1965 Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, Grau's third novel brings the multiple sides of race relations in the south bubbling to the surface. A novel featuring exquisite prose and a captivating story, Keepers of the House weaves a tale of many generations of one interlocking family in a rural southern community. The Howland family had first come to Madison City in Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau is the October 2016 pre 1980 read for the Southern Literary Trail group on Goodreads. The 1965 Pulitzer Prize winner for literature, Grau's third novel brings the multiple sides of race relations in the south bubbling to the surface. A novel featuring exquisite prose and a captivating story, Keepers of the House weaves a tale of many generations of one interlocking family in a rural southern community. The Howland family had first come to Madison City in the days of Andrew Jackson. In the 1960s the family still occupies an estate on the outskirts of town yet has grown to own most of the town and the land surrounding it. Despite being stubborn and wild, the Howlands represent an archetype for a southern family that rebuilds time and again and adapts to the changes around them. At the time of this novel, we meet Abigail Howland Mason, a strong southern woman and the granddaughter of the last William Howland. Keepers of the House is her story as much as her family's, and she narrates her backstory from the porch of her home. William Howland fell in love with a Negro named Margaret Carmichael later in life at a time when having one drop of black blood was a crime in the south. Intermarriage was unheard of and punishable. Yet, William Howland did the unthinkable- he went north to marry Margaret and made sure that she and their children were taken care of for the rest of their lives. Even though he largely raised his granddaughter Abigail, he keeps this secret from her for the rest of his life. Shirley Grau weaves a tale of politics, race relations, and magical realism that often comes to the surface in southern tales. In this gem of a book, she creates memorable characters from William Howland's sister Annie to Margaret's family to Oliver the housekeeper. She takes us back to a time where much of a county is related to one another and weddings and funerals last for weeks. Even as late as the 1940s and '50s, she creates a modern rural persona in Abigail who is naive to the ways of the world yet strong as a keeper of her family's land. Her charming narration of much of this book held my attention, especially in parts that were painful to read. Keepers of the House is much deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. Shirley Ann Grau brings race and political relations to a head at a time when respected white southern men joined the Klan. Writing this novel when the south was divided over the passage of the Civil Rights Act must have taken much courage on her part. I am grateful for the Southern Literary Trail for selecting this gem of a book, or I most likely would not have chosen it on my own. A hidden diamond of a book and a writer, I rate Keepers of the House five bright stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    When Money and Power hurts really badly, it lashes out and destroys as much as it has lost. When Money and Power looks back on the cadavers left behind after the battle was concluded, it sees a drought-shrunken river which turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror. Over the vast expanse of the Alabama heartland, belonging to seven generations of William Howlands, destiny spanned invisible woven threads over Howland Place, Madison City and the county. Abigail Howland Mason Tolliver, a Howland When Money and Power hurts really badly, it lashes out and destroys as much as it has lost. When Money and Power looks back on the cadavers left behind after the battle was concluded, it sees a drought-shrunken river which turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror. Over the vast expanse of the Alabama heartland, belonging to seven generations of William Howlands, destiny spanned invisible woven threads over Howland Place, Madison City and the county. Abigail Howland Mason Tolliver, a Howland descendant, stumbled and fell into it. The sins of the fathers revisited the children. It was a God-awful reality. There was a time when Money-power had a human name. It all started out in the spring of 1815 when William Marshall Howland from Tennessee, settled down in the county and named the river Providence, after his mother. Through seven generations, the Howlands worked hard. They farmed and hunted; they made whiskey and rum and took it to the market down the Providence River to Mobile. However, it was Mrs. Aimeé Legendre Howland, wife of William Carter Howland's brother, who changed the shape and size of the Howland fortunes during the Reconstruction. She had a craving for land, and as other farms were sold (in the poverty-stricken '70's and '80's) she began buying. All sorts of land. Bottoms, for cotton. Sandy pine ridges that weren't used for anything in those days except woodlots. It was Methodist and Baptist country, where Coonshine was popular; Catholics and Freejack Negroes were unpopular; Ridge runners brewed likker in the middle of the Honey Island Swamps; the New Church community of proud Freejacks settled the pine uplands and the swampy bottomlands between the east and west branches of the Providence River, had Indian Coctaw ancestry, with their customs and traditions intact, keeping them even more away from the other Negros and spawned a half-breed called Margaret Carmichael. She borned three red-headed, blue-eyed children to William Howland and sent them away forever to the North, to save them from a life as quadroons, or Negroes in the South, grubbing in the mud. After all, Margaret traveled by train to Cleveland to give birth to all three her white children. That way the word 'Negro' was not on their birth certificates. In the South they were still regarded as William Howland's wood colts. One of them was Robert Howland Carmichael, William Howland's half-breed and only son, who could never claim his rightful name, which should have been William Howland the Eighth, or better yet, William Carmichael Howland. Neither could he claim his heritage. He became Abigail's biggest threat. In the South, most people could tell that Robert was a Negro. In the North, he would have been white. Abigail wished him dead. But their common atavistic destiny dictated a different path ... With a ruthless vengeance the wrongs of the past came tumbling down and shattered the illusion of heaven on earth when Ms. Abigail Howland Mason married the ambitious lawyer John Tolliver, a gubernatorial candidate. Sleeping dogs would have blissfully slumbered forever, was it not for John's indefatigable political hunger and Robert Carmichael's visit to his legally white family of Howland Place. William Howland once told his granddaughter, Abigail, that she was a child and like her mother Abigail, his daughter, had very little sense. He also said: "Our children grow old and elbow us into the grave." And that is why Money and Power would finally get a human face: Abigail Howland Mason Tolliver. It was all she had left to fight back. And that's when history burst out in tears. My comments A tragic, beautiful tale, told in picturesque, cinematic, lyrical prose. The misleading serenity of the woodlands and the swamps; the volatility of the times; the hatred and hypocrisy of the inhabitants; the cruelness of history - it all burst open like an overripe boil that has been foisted for too long on a toxic body. What if William Howland did not venture into the swamps to find the hidden stills of the Robertson brothers and met Margaret Carmichael washing her clothes in a remote spot of the river? What if Abigail, his daughter, did not marry Gregory Edward Mason? What if Abigail, his granddaughter, did not marry John Tolliver? What if William Howland made his only son, Robert, his rightful heir? What if Abigail did not inherited his power and wealth from her grandfather? What if Abigail blamed her own choices for the tragedy that ensued, and not other people? For instance, who forced her to marry her husband? What if Abigail has done right to Margaret Carmichael's children? She could have changed their lives, but decided not to? Would it have changed the racial conflict or the white perceptions in any way? Was Abigail's revenge the only option to resolve the bitter conflict? My guess is that this book did not receive the accolades it deserved due to the 'unrealistic' ending. Added to that was the almost never-ending painting of the canvas as the background to the final events. Although beautifully described in almost microscopic detail, the too elongated, tedious descriptions of the wilderness and the swamps, and the history of violence and vengeance of the people surviving in it, discouraged more readers than it should have. The book also confronted an America during a volatile period in the Sixties, when people died in an effort to bring justice to all citizens of the country. The book could have made a difference if it was edited into a streamlined, focused story of a woman who had to face the consequences of her heritage alone, against an angry mob of cruel bigots who all leeched off her grandfather's wealth and his sense of humanitarian compassion. There were too many word dumping taking place, lessening the drama considerably. The book was also a story told a million times before. It added nothing new to the debate that was raging through the country. What it did do, though, was bring a deeply heartfelt tale to the table where anger and resentment ruled at the time, and presented a story in a musical rhythm of words. It was a saga which needed to be told. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for exactly this reason. "Do what you have to do, " William Howland told his granddaughter from his grave, when she lay emotionally wounded, bleeding, hurting, alone. And so she did, with the blood of seven generations of Howlands raging through her body, and the well of anger drenching an ancestral thirst for revenge. She did it the best way she knew how. A gripping tale. A touching story. A thought-provoking experience.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I first read this book about 15 years ago when I assigned it for my bookclub. It was one of the best discussions we ever had about racism, hatred and Southerness. I decided to re-read this when it was a choice for On the Southern Literary Trail group here on GR. It was every bit as good this time around, maybe even better. A family saga of the Howlands, a family who settled in what sounds like northern Alabama, although the locale is never named. With 200 years of living on the same land, in the I first read this book about 15 years ago when I assigned it for my bookclub. It was one of the best discussions we ever had about racism, hatred and Southerness. I decided to re-read this when it was a choice for On the Southern Literary Trail group here on GR. It was every bit as good this time around, maybe even better. A family saga of the Howlands, a family who settled in what sounds like northern Alabama, although the locale is never named. With 200 years of living on the same land, in the same house, we get the stories of the predecessors of Will Howland and his grand-daughter Abigail. Will spent his last 30 years living with his black "housekeeper", and had 3 children with her. Abigail is the one who has to deal with that legacy. The way she dealt with the prejudice and anger of the townspeople when they learn the truth will have you cheering. Revenge can be a wonderful thing when you have the money to do it right. This book won the Pulitzer in 1965, and, in my opinion, deservedly so. Beautiful, poetic prose, wonderful nature writing, an understanding of how to build a story, and some powerful characters determined to protect their own make this a great book. Highly recommended to anyone needing a really good book to get involved in.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is a sweeping tale of a Southern family, racial prejudice, and human integrity. The Howlands are those Southerners--the ones with lots of money, power and name. After the death of his first wife, Will Howland fathers three children with his black housekeeper, Margaret, a woman he loves. Everyone knows this, but no one acknowledges it. Even inside the Howland home, this is a visible secret. We meet both Will and Margaret before they meet one another. Margaret is one of the most unique, believ This is a sweeping tale of a Southern family, racial prejudice, and human integrity. The Howlands are those Southerners--the ones with lots of money, power and name. After the death of his first wife, Will Howland fathers three children with his black housekeeper, Margaret, a woman he loves. Everyone knows this, but no one acknowledges it. Even inside the Howland home, this is a visible secret. We meet both Will and Margaret before they meet one another. Margaret is one of the most unique, believable and interesting characters that I have ever encountered. Will, a strong man, handles his situation in the most upstanding manner that he believes a man in that day and age can do. This is a tale of family; a tale of blood, and sometimes a tale of how little we know about the people that we know the best. Will’s granddaughter, Abigail, is left to handle the consequences of this legacy, and she draws on the strength of her grandfather’s blood in a way that leaves you cheering for her aloud. The most shocking thing about this book is that it is not more widely known and appreciated. It received the Pulitzer prize in 1965, and I can imagine that it caused a bit of a stir in the South, a region in the throes of desegregation. Like Lamb in His Bosom, another Pulitzer that I only discovered this year, this book has just faded into obscurity, and that is hard to understand. Perhaps people feel it does not have any true relevance anymore, but I think it speaks to the humanity of every character in the most relevant of ways. Are we not still, and always, being encouraged to view our world through the most politically expedient optics? How many of us decide what we think and feel based on what we are told we ought to think and feel? How many of us have the courage to lead a life that is opposed to that norm? Along the way, Grau scatters little bits of wisdom that are completely true, completely universal, and yet so seldom voiced: We’ll remember him, she thought. For a time, a little time, before it starts slipping away from us, and we won’t remember hardly at all. Then we’ll be dead too, and that’ll be the end of him, for good. And isn’t it funny, she thought, that it takes two generations to kill off a man? ...First him, and then his memory… I have often thought exactly this. Everyone who personally knew my grandparents is dead, excepting my generation of siblings and cousins. When we are gone, no one on earth will remember them and many of our children will probably not even be able to identify them in photographs. But we are made up of these people. Many of the things I have passed to the next generation have come directly from them, many of the most precious stories I know are their stories. In so many ways, that is what this book is really about, the passage of time and the passage of something unidentifiable, in the blood, that is about who we are and where we come from.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    1965 Pulitzer winner, I Found akin to Being Made to Eat a Heaping Helping of Turnip Greens [yuck!] Because I was a "Growing Boy" The Unfair Bait-and-Switch I read this novel for two reasons: it won the Pulitzer the year I was born, and it's set in a fictional county in the deep American South during a time of racial hatred and violence. I'm sure The Keepers of the House had quite an impact back then; and, the nation's posture at the time screamed for Pulitzer to give its prize to Ms. Grau for this 1965 Pulitzer winner, I Found akin to Being Made to Eat a Heaping Helping of Turnip Greens [yuck!] Because I was a "Growing Boy" The Unfair Bait-and-Switch I read this novel for two reasons: it won the Pulitzer the year I was born, and it's set in a fictional county in the deep American South during a time of racial hatred and violence. I'm sure The Keepers of the House had quite an impact back then; and, the nation's posture at the time screamed for Pulitzer to give its prize to Ms. Grau for this book. I was quite disappointed nonetheless. The novel is righteous in achieving its ultimate just revenge. Yet vengeance is not the protagonist's until the last 5% on kindle, after taking several hours to get there, which wouldn't have been a problem had it not been a long and quite boring 95% in which I had a hard time going back to it. The characters are rather shallow, and it seems to me that Ms. Grau could have cut the book in half and still achieved her goal. Like my grandmother putting a large helping of unpleasant looking/smelling turnip greens in front of 7-year-old me at Sunday dinner, I had to force myself to keep reading, telling myself 'it's good for a growing mind.' Yet, I cringed getting it down, in an overall reading experience that was much more chore than pleasure. [At 7: Beyonce would have made little difference. Now: 'have you also any spinach?']

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Smith

    I'm the foolish one who let this set on their shelf unread for 10 years! What an incredible book that I never hear of (OK well one friend mentioned it)that needs more attention.-- I am going to say that after To Kill A Mockingbird as number one, this book should be number two on a list of books about the South. If I had to nominate any single book to represent and capture the American South, this would be it.--There are eccentric family secrets and they are indelicate, but the delicacy of the v I'm the foolish one who let this set on their shelf unread for 10 years! What an incredible book that I never hear of (OK well one friend mentioned it)that needs more attention.-- I am going to say that after To Kill A Mockingbird as number one, this book should be number two on a list of books about the South. If I had to nominate any single book to represent and capture the American South, this would be it.--There are eccentric family secrets and they are indelicate, but the delicacy of the voice that delivers the words soothes with gentleness. The contrast from delicacy to violent forces of nature and mankind enrich every page.--So much history, so many nuances of the culture, there are so many things that you will file away in your soul to return to later.-- I heart strong(Southern)women, and the younger Abigail shows her mettle before the perfectly suited ending. This book will move you, lead you to places complex and beautiful.-- It could make grown men shed a tear more than once and not at obvious places, sometimes just in anticipation of what you expect to happen. This is not melodramatic, this is art. --These are also some of the best descriptions of our Natural world, this amazingly skilled author delivers beautiful vignettes while keeping a kinetic thread of activity. Action passes through nature and leaves a poets keen observances of the beautiful and the violent.--I recommend this to everyone. If this is not the South, this is the way I wish to imagine it! My Opinion,OR NOT

  7. 5 out of 5

    Doug H - On Hiatus

    If Harper Lee, Henry David Thoreau and Wallace Stegner had a triracial love child it might read something like this 1965 Pulitzer Prize winner. Wait a second... Triracialism... I think I need to go back and reread some things in Margaret's section before I continue trying to write this. In the meantime (and I case I don't), let me just say that it's a crime that this isn't as widely read as To Kill a Mockingbird. I learned so much more from it. 5 stars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Karina

    4.5 It was hard to get into at first bc I had so many "life" things going on around me but I knew it was a good book right away. This is a historical fiction book spanning 7 generations of the Howland family told in the narrative of Abigail Howland. It starts with her grandfather, William's, perspective then goes on to Margaret Carmichael's story and how they happened to meet. Margaret is the black "housekeeper" William has "hired." She also births him 5 children but only 3 survive. No one bats 4.5 It was hard to get into at first bc I had so many "life" things going on around me but I knew it was a good book right away. This is a historical fiction book spanning 7 generations of the Howland family told in the narrative of Abigail Howland. It starts with her grandfather, William's, perspective then goes on to Margaret Carmichael's story and how they happened to meet. Margaret is the black "housekeeper" William has "hired." She also births him 5 children but only 3 survive. No one bats an eye to this indiscretion until a secret is revealed after their deaths. The story build up was a slow one but much needed to tell the story. I liked Abigail at first, when she told of being a young child but as she grew and married I wanted to punch her snobby ass in the face. She redeems herself in the end by being a strong woman (with lots of money to help do the talking) when all the men in her life have left her but she turned out to be a spoiled white typical Southern woman, stereotype for that time. If she would have learned anything from her grandpa, who raised her, she would have turned out to be a decent human being. But I guess we don't listen until life punches us in the face and we are left with quotes to remember. "My grandfather said: 'He'll do all right.. There's some of his family that's bums, but there's some of ours we can't look too hard at. We could start listing with your father." (PAGE 198) "You don't seem happy about it." "He had begun to fill his pipe. 'Honey, I'm just too old to get excited. Seems like all I can remember is how many time the same thing has happened to me, Right now you're telling me this. And seems all I can remember is your mother and me, just the two of us driving back from the station in a buggy and coming up that front drive there, same drive, same plants, same everything, and her telling me she was in love and getting married.' "John's not like my father." "And seems I can remember me coming home to tell my parents I was in love and getting married. And they didn't look surprised either, nor very happy." "It's not the same with me," I said, "it's different." "When you're old as me," he said, "you'll see that there ain't much that's different or separate or unusual." (PAGE 199) Loved these quotes... every generation thinks they are better and smarter than the last but it all goes through cycles and we are saying the same things to our children. This was a great historical fiction novel for fans of this genre.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    November evenings are quiet and still and dry. The frost-stripped trees and the bleached grasses glisten and shine in the small light. In the winter-emptied fields granite outcroppings gleam white and stark. The bones of the earth, old people call them. In the deepest fold of the land--to the southwest where the sun went down solid and red not long ago--the Providence river reflects a little grey light. The river is small this time of year, drought-shrunken. It turns back the sky, dully, like an November evenings are quiet and still and dry. The frost-stripped trees and the bleached grasses glisten and shine in the small light. In the winter-emptied fields granite outcroppings gleam white and stark. The bones of the earth, old people call them. In the deepest fold of the land--to the southwest where the sun went down solid and red not long ago--the Providence river reflects a little grey light. The river is small this time of year, drought-shrunken. It turns back the sky, dully, like an old mirror. [...] As I stand there in the immaculate evening I do not find it strange to be fighting an entire town, a whole county. I am alone, yes, of course I am, but I am not particularly afraid. The house was empty and lonely before--I just did not realize it--it's no worse now. I know that I shall hurt as much as I have been hurt. I shall destroy as much as I have lost. It's a way to live, you know. It's a way to keep your heart ticking under the sheltering arches of your ribs. And that's enough for now. These are the first and last paragraphs of the brief first section of Chapter 1 of The Keepers of the House, a wonderful tale of several generations of a Southern family. It is a delicious slice of Southern culture and of the painful effects of sex-roles and racial conflicts on the lives of the family's members. The characters are strong and interesting and well-rounded. The prose is clear and evocative of the Southern climate and landscape. If you want a taste of Mississippi across generations and don't want to do the hard work of reading Faulkner, this one will give you an easier, but in many ways similar, experience. This one earned its Pulitzer.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul Secor

    The South Race and People This was a brave novel to have written in the early 1960s. It remains a brave novel today, which is a sad comment on our society.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    4.5 stars The Howlands settled in rural Alabama in the beginning of the 19th Century, and became one of the most affluent and respected families in Wade County. Abigail, the granddaughter of William Howland, reflects back on the family's history in the Howland's large home. After Abigail's grandmother died, William began a relationship with Margaret, a black housekeeper. Years later, Abigail's husband is spouting racist statements in order to get elected around the early 1960s. In the last days o 4.5 stars The Howlands settled in rural Alabama in the beginning of the 19th Century, and became one of the most affluent and respected families in Wade County. Abigail, the granddaughter of William Howland, reflects back on the family's history in the Howland's large home. After Abigail's grandmother died, William began a relationship with Margaret, a black housekeeper. Years later, Abigail's husband is spouting racist statements in order to get elected around the early 1960s. In the last days of his political campaign, new information comes to light about William and Margaret's relationship. The white community turns its rage upon Abigail since she is the granddaughter of the deceased Howland patriarch, William. Abigail vows to uphold the honor of the Howlands and take revenge on the people who hurt her family. There is a real sense of place in the descriptions so the reader feels enveloped by the Southern atmosphere. The descriptions of William poling through the swamp, with snakes falling from tree branches, are especially vivid. Building in layers, this is a powerful book with strong people--Abigail, William, and Margaret--as the three main characters. The book shows the social structure, racial prejudice, and political games of the time. The Keepers of the House was published in 1964 during the Civil Rights movement. The Ku Klux Klan reacted by burning a cross at Grau's home in Metairie, Louisiana. The author won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    WOW!! Go get this book!! If you like short reviews stop here and follow that suggestion. For more thoughts, read along: There has got to be a glitch in the Goodreads rating system (as of the writing of this review this book is rated at 3.82). Seriously, this is an epic tale that is not to be missed. Had it not been a selection within the group "On the Southern Literary Trail", I would have no doubt missed it. An epic story of how a long family line amassed not only good fortune, but heartache, lo WOW!! Go get this book!! If you like short reviews stop here and follow that suggestion. For more thoughts, read along: There has got to be a glitch in the Goodreads rating system (as of the writing of this review this book is rated at 3.82). Seriously, this is an epic tale that is not to be missed. Had it not been a selection within the group "On the Southern Literary Trail", I would have no doubt missed it. An epic story of how a long family line amassed not only good fortune, but heartache, love, betrayal, revenge, and self confidence in a not so typical "blood thicker than water" family. Grau has a way of weaving this account through varied narrators over varied generations, yet the connective tissue is stronger than the sinews she uses within her text to depict change from one generation to the next. She can turn the script on a dime; shifting from one side story to another mid-sentence without pushing in the clutch in the slightest......yet, she didn't perturb me in the slightest as can often be the result when author's get fancy trying to twist me around like that. There is a flavor of Faulkner in her writings, and I would describe the path she takes as almost string of consciousness but without the confusion that usually ensues. Unlike some multi-generation books, I didn't feel the need to sketch out a family tree reference piece......it flows. Trying like heck to avoid a spoiler, but I would simply say hang on until the end- you will not be disappointed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    This is a wonderfully written book which tells the story of a house, the land it sits on and the Howland family who lived in it for well over a century. Grau has created her own corner of the South here, presenting men and women of varying strengths and weaknesses, all caught up in the ongoing history of that area including the complications, terrors and pain of race relations. Multiple generations have lived and died on this land and the white family has always had black hands working the land w This is a wonderfully written book which tells the story of a house, the land it sits on and the Howland family who lived in it for well over a century. Grau has created her own corner of the South here, presenting men and women of varying strengths and weaknesses, all caught up in the ongoing history of that area including the complications, terrors and pain of race relations. Multiple generations have lived and died on this land and the white family has always had black hands working the land with them. That's just the course of their existence. But their lives are separate even if they are close. This is a spot far from the city and deeply Southern in its attitude toward blacks. Everyone tells stories around here. Every place, every person has a ring of stories around them, a halo almost. People have told me tales ever since I was a tiny girl squatting in the front dooryard, in mud-caked overalls, digging for doodlebugs. They have talked to me, and talked to me. some I've forgotten, but most I remember. And so my memory goes back before my birth. (loc 128) And stories are what the reader will hear in multiple voices. Stories of births and deaths; of love, hate, revenge and occasional understanding, bringing the Howland house and it's "keepers" up to the middle of the 20th century. I highly recommend this book to lovers of American Southern fiction and readers of good fiction in general. The pace can vary as there are slow episodes, descriptive passages, treks in the wild. but it is well worth it to get a feeling for another time and place and people.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    To call this book "an indictment of racism" was quite an exaggeration. Most of this book is almost a stream of consciousness family history - not terribly interesting if it's not your family. Maybe the inclusion of a mixed race marriage was bold in the 1960s so the Pulitzer Prize committee could congratulate itself about how progressive it was. Otherwise, I have no idea why this book won the prize.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Back in February 2014 my husband mentioned I needed to read this book. I said "yeah, I'll get to it" but here I am 2 1/2 years later saying "he was right and I was wrong for putting it off". I love a strong female character (she does have some flaws, but who doesn't). You see some real independence by the end of the book. I also like that it hints at a daughter who is following in the footsteps of her mother. This is a great multi-generational story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Don't skip the epil Back in February 2014 my husband mentioned I needed to read this book. I said "yeah, I'll get to it" but here I am 2 1/2 years later saying "he was right and I was wrong for putting it off". I love a strong female character (she does have some flaws, but who doesn't). You see some real independence by the end of the book. I also like that it hints at a daughter who is following in the footsteps of her mother. This is a great multi-generational story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Don't skip the epilogue....you won't be disappointed in the ending. "You bring them a message from me....."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I grabbed this book in one of Audible's every-other-day BOGO sales. Not that I'm complaining, but I have FIFTEEN audiobooks purchased and waiting on me right now... so maybe like a week or two would be a nice break before the next sale has me picking up 4 or 6 more. (Like, seriously, Audible. That'd be great.) And I've noticed a trend with the books that I've selected from these sales. I've found myself gravitating recently toward books that deal with slavery and race relations. It's not a consc I grabbed this book in one of Audible's every-other-day BOGO sales. Not that I'm complaining, but I have FIFTEEN audiobooks purchased and waiting on me right now... so maybe like a week or two would be a nice break before the next sale has me picking up 4 or 6 more. (Like, seriously, Audible. That'd be great.) And I've noticed a trend with the books that I've selected from these sales. I've found myself gravitating recently toward books that deal with slavery and race relations. It's not a conscious thing, I don't go looking for this trait... They were just on sale, and I liked the sample, so I took a chance and realized after I started listening to the book that it fits my trend. The Keepers of the House was no different. I thought that the book was a southern gothic ghost story (which, on hindsight, wasn't that far off the mark) and I figured that there would be racial issues somewhere in there, but I didn't realize that the issues WERE the story. This book is beautifully written, and extremely lush in the descriptions. It was great listening to this on audio, because it was easy to just let my mind drift and absorb the imagery and history and sense of place being described. In that aspect, this book deserves 5 stars, no doubt. But this book failed in other aspects. I felt that a lot of the narrative was unnecessarily bloated. This is the story of the Howlands, and how their family changed and how their secrets affected the present day (mid-1960s) when this was written. In that regard, I don't need to know about every snake in every tree lining every swamp branch during William Howland's personal game of Find-The-Still. That has no bearing on the story at all and just felt like filler. His RETURN from his mid-life crisis adventure allowed him to meet Margaret, but the intricately described trip itself was unnecessary. All I, an outsider listening to the story of the Howland history, needed to know was that he went on a quest to find a whiskey still as a personal bet to himself, and on his way back home he ran into the girl that he would hire as a housekeeper. I don't need to know what color shirt he was wearing, or how many steps he had to take between point A and point B, unless it has something to add to the story. Likewise, I felt that our narrator, Abigail Howland (the 2nd), was not very adept at communicating the relevant bits of her story. She's William Howland's granddaughter, daughter of Abigail Howland (William's daughter), and mother to Abigail Howland. I'm guessing that just as it was a point of pride for every generation to have a William Howland, it was an unspoken point that there should be an Abigail Howland as well. This helps illustrate my point, actually. Abigail2 goes to lengths to tell the reader that there's always a William in every generation. It's tradition... but she neglects to mention that it seems to be the same in the female line with the name Abigail. But more than that one little example, I felt that she assumed the reader had an understanding of people's motives and actions (including her own), rather than telling the story properly and filling in an outsider with this info. Maybe some don't mind this, and are OK with interpreting the unspoken bits, but I'm not. She's telling me her story, so I want her to tell it in full. Give me the information that matters rather than the irrelevant details, like what color a dress was. It's unusual for me to care about or identify with a character less as I get to know them throughout the course of the story. Even if I don't particularly LIKE a character, usually I can still identify with them or find something about them that I can understand, unless they were a poorly written character. But the more I got to know Abigail, the more I felt like I didn't understand her at all. I kept thinking of her as this person who will bridge the gap, who has grown up in this, at the time, unusual situation and understands it. But the more I felt like that, the more wrong she proved me. Her reunion with Nina was baffling to me. I understand the mindset of the time... but I'm specifically talking about Abigail's hostility. I just don't understand her. On the one hand, she seems to NOT be a racist, and not agree with the prevailing white supremacist attitudes, but she displays a desire to punish Margaret's children for being born black. Or, maybe just for daring to let their existence be known about after they were sent away as children. I don't understand her at all, and the more I got to know her, the more I disliked her. If it wasn't for this aspect, I think this book would likely have been a 4 or 5 star book. But either I missed something critical or I was supposed to interpret it (or maybe those are the same things), and I just felt like the conclusion of this story, instead of being powerful and meaningful, just left me confused and annoyed.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Wyndy

    I've visited several swamps in my lifetime in several different states. My husband and I recently spent two days touring a cypress swamp and rice paddy in South Carolina, with alligators blocking our trail and heron rookeries and snapping turtles and swarming gnats. But we weren't IN the swamp in a skiff in the 1800's. We had boardwalks and footpaths, cellphones and water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray. Shirley Ann Grau describes a pre-tourist Deep South cypress swamp like no one I've ever rea I've visited several swamps in my lifetime in several different states. My husband and I recently spent two days touring a cypress swamp and rice paddy in South Carolina, with alligators blocking our trail and heron rookeries and snapping turtles and swarming gnats. But we weren't IN the swamp in a skiff in the 1800's. We had boardwalks and footpaths, cellphones and water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray. Shirley Ann Grau describes a pre-tourist Deep South cypress swamp like no one I've ever read (except maybe Tim Gautreaux and Peter Matthiessen): "He poled through miles of moss-hung cypress stands where gators splashed away from his bow and moccasins swam alongside with their bright intelligent stare . . . As the sun dropped, a cloud of biting gnats rose from the grasses - the saw grass and the oyster grass, and the duck grass - until the sky was dark with them. William felt his whole body begin to tingle. Not just his hands and face and neck, not just the exposed skin, but his whole body burned as the tiny insects slipped inside his clothing." But this Alabama swamp and the house the first William built on a bluff above a river in the early 1800's is just part of the story. Grau writes a lot about loss in this book, through the voice of Abigail Mason Howland Tolliver, as she proceeds through the lives of six generations of Howlands - the 'keepers of the house': "They are dead, all of them. I am caught and tangled around by their doings. It is as if their lives left a weaving of invisible threads in the air of this house, of this town, of this county. And I stumbled and fell into them." With unhurried prose, she also probes the universal themes of Mother Nature's wrath and glory, the pull and push of family and home, the casualties of prejudice and small-town politics, and the bittersweet satisfaction of revenge - slowly and perfectly exacted. Personally, I preferred hanging out with William in a skiff in the swamp, hunting for a hidden likker still, to the final half of the book. But it's easy to see why this won the Pulitzer in 1965. 3.5 stars, rounded up for Grau's phenomenal descriptions of the natural world and for the integrity of William Howland.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bam

    #2016-USA-Geography-Challenge: week one ~ ALABAMA This is quite an explosive story that deals with racism and segregation in the South. I cannot believe it is not better known, especially after having won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction back in 1965. It should be right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird, imho. Grau tells the story of the Howland family, whose founder settled in the county and built the original homestead 150 years before the setting of the story. The title 'The Keepers of the Hou #2016-USA-Geography-Challenge: week one ~ ALABAMA This is quite an explosive story that deals with racism and segregation in the South. I cannot believe it is not better known, especially after having won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction back in 1965. It should be right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird, imho. Grau tells the story of the Howland family, whose founder settled in the county and built the original homestead 150 years before the setting of the story. The title 'The Keepers of the House' gives a hint to how important that house was to the family. Generations have been born and raised there, adding wings to the house, remodeling it and acquiring more property and businesses until they own most of the town. Abigal Howland Tollivar is married to a man who is certain to be the next governor of the state...until her late grandfather's secret is revealed and all hell breaks loose. It is interesting to see what lengths she will go to to protect her home and save it for her children. Although it takes a while to develop, the story picks up the pace as it reaches its shattering conclusion. And oh, what satisfying revenge is wreaked!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    This book begins rather slowly by setting up the charismatic characters of the Howland family, who now led by a tough (but endearing and wise ) patriarch William, have flourished in Alabama for 7 generations as great landowners and pillars of Southern society, and setting up a beautiful descriptive environment in which further action will take place . But stick with it, there is plenty of action on the way as many years after the death of his first wife William begins a relationship with Margare This book begins rather slowly by setting up the charismatic characters of the Howland family, who now led by a tough (but endearing and wise ) patriarch William, have flourished in Alabama for 7 generations as great landowners and pillars of Southern society, and setting up a beautiful descriptive environment in which further action will take place . But stick with it, there is plenty of action on the way as many years after the death of his first wife William begins a relationship with Margaret who was briefly his black servant . Some years go by and it appears that there will be minimal problems with the situation, but alas this is not meant to last as several events escalate the racial tension of the time. This book which is beautifully written , was a Pulitzer Prize winner about 50 years ago . It is still a wonderful read today, if only to show us how much racial relations have changed. Of special interest to me as I have a beloved biracial granddaughter and I also live in a Historic Registry home ( housing some of our 3rd generation now) which helps me relate to the connection that these folks have to the old family home which is included in this book's title and is also almost a living breathing character in this story. 5 stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3 1/2 This book read the Pulitzer awhile ago and it is a expose somewhat on the race tensions in the south. I enjoyed reading about William the best, really liked how he didn't care what anyone thought, but took care of his family.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Reaction to the historical fiction plot will occur last. But primarily, beyond the characters and plot focus- I think this is one of the most well written novels I've personally read since the turn of the century. Why is this not considered a classic? With William, with Margaret, and with the granddaughter Abby- all of them- THE EYES!! Their eye witness descriptions of travel, work, daily movement and lodging arrangements. It reminds me of most superb excellence of Krueger or Haruf for their own Reaction to the historical fiction plot will occur last. But primarily, beyond the characters and plot focus- I think this is one of the most well written novels I've personally read since the turn of the century. Why is this not considered a classic? With William, with Margaret, and with the granddaughter Abby- all of them- THE EYES!! Their eye witness descriptions of travel, work, daily movement and lodging arrangements. It reminds me of most superb excellence of Krueger or Haruf for their own geographic areas. But warmer and loam dense richer. Superb natural world descriptions but always through character reaction within that nature and not apart from the human immersion within it. They are a unit, one. Beyond all that is the wide divide on race, religion, economics- but most of all race. Margaret's inherent knowledge that she would separate from her children so young and permanently! And the fall out of their return so many years later. So many side issues of pressure and direction to division, as well. Wade County knowing its own and rejecting what it rejects. And the women! Margaret's journey out of New Church. Abigail's first and earliest impressions. How labor and death is surrounded by certain ritual. And Aunt Annie with that wedding. So much "that is the way we do it" and diffidence to that is full of consequence. I especially thought the entire mindset of proper was so reflected in that Bannister house that had wasp nest on the picture frame and inches of grease on the stove but always had its occupants with the "perfect" underwear rule. Written in 1965, I don't think this novel, despite winning the Pulitzer, got the long term glory or analysis it deserved because of the ending. It was the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the "victim" voice was not then deemed appropriate, nor the economic revenge of Abby considered an equalizer or perhaps not particularly justified. Regardless, this is a strong, warm and human tale of that couple William/ Margaret and the power of character. Both of them. And also the fierce iron-clad self-identity of Abigail who through her Grandfather understood the nearly 200 year connection to that house place and ridge edge. All theirs, and of their blood. That's hard for me to understand that kind of permanence but I could begin to fully connote it from this book. The power of identity flowing out and within that core visual and life sustaining structure of William's ancestors' house. My family, extended or otherwise, has never been able to stay in the same place/ locale structure, nor sometimes the same country, for more than a generation or two. Most times never by any choice for a permanence of establishment in the sense that Abigail's family held in this book. It must truly hold some pull.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Add this to your lists. It is very good. Listen to the audiobook narrated by Anna Fields, if you can. Read it or listen to it, but don't let it slide to the bottom of your heap of books to be read! This book stands out as one of the better about the race situation in the South before the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. What is it like to have both black and white blood? Where do you belong? How do you deal with this? What do you do and what do yo not do? In this book you will see people who hav Add this to your lists. It is very good. Listen to the audiobook narrated by Anna Fields, if you can. Read it or listen to it, but don't let it slide to the bottom of your heap of books to be read! This book stands out as one of the better about the race situation in the South before the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. What is it like to have both black and white blood? Where do you belong? How do you deal with this? What do you do and what do yo not do? In this book you will see people who have made different choices, and you will think about why they made those choices. The reader will ponder what choices they might make. The book gives you more than an in-depth understanding of being a bi-racial person. The feel of the South and how history played out there for those living in the South, that is what you get in spades. The Depression, WW2, the Korean War, and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement slide by, but the focus is on the people living there in the South. Is it set in Louisiana or Mississippi? Exactly where isn't really clear or really that important except that there are swamps nearby and you are taken in there. You will not forget that experience. The Ku Klux Klan and Prohibition and a sense of the racial inequality that existed in this time and place is what your are enveloped in. And what would you do if you were there - a Black or a White or mixed? But what makes this book better than others that focus on the question of bi-racial identity? This certainly isn't the first book to tackle the question! It is in the way the author expresses herself. It is in the way she describes their lives and their surroundings: the nearby swamp, the fires, the weddings, the funerals and an old man watching his children and their children and the following generations grow up, watching and observing and making his own life choices. By the way, look at the title - you can see the generations slip by. There is clever dialog and subtle humor: Question:"Who are you calling?" Answer: "The barn!" When you hear this you will laugh. The Southern dialect and the slow desultory tempo with which Anna Fields narrates the book is the icing on the cake. And the plot - the story finishes with a bang. You will be surprised. There is so much I want to tell you about William. What discussions you can have about the characters! What makes this story so perfect is in the author's way of telling it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    In this edition is appended a biography of Shirley Ann Grau. ...The Keepers of the House (1964) directly confronted one of the most urgent social issues of the time. Considered Grau's masterpiece, it chronicles a family of Alabama landowners over the course of more than a century. Its sophisticated, unsparing look at race relations in the Deep South garnered Grau a Pulitzer Prize.For myself, I was lulled into a false sense of well-being. In fact, just short of the midway point I felt this was a In this edition is appended a biography of Shirley Ann Grau. ...The Keepers of the House (1964) directly confronted one of the most urgent social issues of the time. Considered Grau's masterpiece, it chronicles a family of Alabama landowners over the course of more than a century. Its sophisticated, unsparing look at race relations in the Deep South garnered Grau a Pulitzer Prize.For myself, I was lulled into a false sense of well-being. In fact, just short of the midway point I felt this was a lot of stringing together of anecdotes and that there was little conflict. Since I think such conflict is usually required to make a good novel, I was surprised at how much I had liked it so far. I thought how much I - and some of my GR friends - like works in which the sense of place is as much a part as any of the characters.The short hard winter passed. Fine early-spring rains began, light delicate ones like fog or smoke, that dusted the surfaces of houses and trees and earth—the gentle ones. The sun shone fitfully, the sky was an even light grey, and the ground warmed every hour. The farmers went out and tested it, laying their hands flat on it, seeing whether it gave or took away heat. It was only a thng to do. They knew before they started that the warmth of the ground would pass into their hands. They could almost feel the earth begin to breathe. Those whose fields were high began to break for their cotton and peas and corn. People in the bottomlands waited for the floods to come, to cover their fields with rich black silt brought down from the north. For them, early spring was a time of rest, almost like the winter had been.Told in 4 parts and an Epilogue by Abigail Howland, her grandfather William, and William's Negro mistress, Margaret. They - and others in Abigail words - are the keepers of the house. This is prose worth reading with characters come to life on the page. Often I can feel the tension in a novel build. Two the characters seemed to have a sixth sense of things beyond normal understanding. Apparently I lacked even what little sense I might have had and was stunned when the drama unfolded. While I have been lucky enough to have lived in places where the events of this novel could never have happened, I know they were real enough.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dustincecil

    A little bit confusing with all the same names(prob. because of audio book) but good characters. and a pretty surprising end! sweet revenge. I loved all the descriptions of the swap. This was also a nice companion read to "hunter's horn", fox hunts, and moonshine stills, and a lot of of gossip. audio book on hoopla.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Shirley Ann Grau’s The Keepers of the House is a stunning masterpiece of epic proportions. Winner of the 1965 Pulitzer Prize, the novel is a scathing indictment of racism and its damaging impact. It chronicles several generations of the Howland family in a rural Alabama community. The narrative begins in the early 1800s with the first Howland. His descendants gradually acquire more and more land in the county, becoming the biggest landowners. The narrative culminates with Abigail Howland in the Shirley Ann Grau’s The Keepers of the House is a stunning masterpiece of epic proportions. Winner of the 1965 Pulitzer Prize, the novel is a scathing indictment of racism and its damaging impact. It chronicles several generations of the Howland family in a rural Alabama community. The narrative begins in the early 1800s with the first Howland. His descendants gradually acquire more and more land in the county, becoming the biggest landowners. The narrative culminates with Abigail Howland in the 1960s. Grau weaves an intricate fabric with care and precision, gradually connecting disparate threads of time, place, and people until she draws us into its stunning conclusion. The story is told in the voice of Abigail Howland, the granddaughter of the last William Howland. Abigail provides the backstory of her ancestors, going back a few generations; leads into her wealthy grandfather with whom she spent her formative years after her mother’s illness and death; and then takes us to her own marriage, the birth of her children, and her return to the Howland estate. The narrative takes an unexpected turn when the widowed William Howland invites a young Negro name Margaret to be his housekeeper. He fathers five children with her, only three of whom survive. This was a time when interracial marriage was still considered a crime in the South. As long as Howland didn’t formalize his relationship with his mistress, the community looked the other way. But under the veneer of a supportive extended family and a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else and where weddings and funerals are community-wide affairs, there lurks the insidious head of racism. Shortly after his death when Howland’s actual marriage to Margaret is exposed, all hell breaks loose, and Abigail is forced to defend her home against her white neighbors who try to set it on fire. Grau has woven an intricate story with memorable characters in an authentic setting. Through her use of vivid sensory details, she immerses us in the small Alabama community with its swamps and woodlands; its snakes and alligators; its seasonal fluctuations; its farming and livestock; its sights, sounds, and smells; its racial prejudice; and its politics. She introduces us to a host of characters, depicting them as unique individuals with their idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Particularly impressive is Grau’s ability to capture the dialect, subtleties, and nuances in speech of each of her characters, especially William Howland and Margaret. Although Howland is a man of few words, he emerges as an authentic, fully-fleshed out individual who casts his expansive shadow over the community even after his death. And through her sparse but astute dialogue, Margaret emerges as a strong, fiercely determined, intelligent, and resilient woman. The characters come alive on the page. Some have imbibed the bigotry of the times and the place; others try to navigate their bi-racial relationships and bi-racial identities the best way they know how in an environment that is hostile to both. This is a complex novel with complex characters. Grau eloquently evokes the landscape, atmosphere, and inhabitants of a rural Southern town. She builds her story with skill, adding layer upon layer as she moves us forward in time. Through her characters, she illustrates how racism and bigotry influence the difficult choices we make in our lives and the choices we make for our children. She illustrates how a community that has known you all your life can turn against you because of its intolerance. And through the character of Abigail, she illustrates how a young girl, sheltered from the harsh realities of life, grows into an empowered female, fiercely determined to confront racial prejudice and to defend her family’s legacy. By the end of the novel, Abigail Howland has earned her title as the keeper of the house. A powerful story told with eloquence, passion, and heart. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    I feel like this novel doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Before a few months ago I had never even heard of it, and now, having read it, I can only place it in my personal pantheon of Great American Novels. The Keepers of the House is exquisite in everything from its sultry and at times disturbing language to its irrepressibly keen perspective on race relations in the American South. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, this masterpiece of a novel should be read by anyone who is intere I feel like this novel doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Before a few months ago I had never even heard of it, and now, having read it, I can only place it in my personal pantheon of Great American Novels. The Keepers of the House is exquisite in everything from its sultry and at times disturbing language to its irrepressibly keen perspective on race relations in the American South. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, this masterpiece of a novel should be read by anyone who is interested in understanding the painful subtleties of American racism and the hypocrisy and violence that inevitably follow. More at my BLOG . . .

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    A 1965 Pulitzer Prize winner did not disappoint. This book gained steam in the second half of the book where we hear from Abigail, that was my favourite part of the book. If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird, this book is for you.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Harold Titus

    It took me 42 days to read the first 200 pages of Shirley Ann Grau’s 1965 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Keepers of the House” and one sitting to finish its final 109 pages. During those first 200 pages the book seemed more anecdotal than directional. What is this that I am reading, a family genealogy? I wondered. I thought about quitting the book for one that adhered more to the default formula of popular fiction-writing: grab the reader’s interest on the very first page, establish quickly a It took me 42 days to read the first 200 pages of Shirley Ann Grau’s 1965 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Keepers of the House” and one sitting to finish its final 109 pages. During those first 200 pages the book seemed more anecdotal than directional. What is this that I am reading, a family genealogy? I wondered. I thought about quitting the book for one that adhered more to the default formula of popular fiction-writing: grab the reader’s interest on the very first page, establish quickly an easily discernible conflict, present events not typical of ordinary life, encourage the reader to live the main character’s defeats and triumphs, and leave everybody satisfied at the end. But then, much to my satisfaction, “The Keepers of the House” took off. Shirley Ann Grau’s novel is about real life, as it was lived in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s in rural Alabama. More specifically, it is about how racism negatively affected every individual’s life in that locality at that time. Her depiction is not superficial, contrived, or stereotypical. It is complex because she knows her subject matter thoroughly, her characters are complex, and racism is complicated, being the end result of any number of defective human characteristics. Grau takes her time (probably too much, i.e. detailing their histories) developing her three main characters. We come to like and respect them, despite their fallibilities. We see that each is a good person. We discover that each at least once rejects conspicuously the implicit rules of racism. Each suffers hard consequences. The question asked of the reader at the end of the novel is this: Was each character’s act/acts of conscience worth his/her personal sacrifice? William Howland’s great great grandfather had created a farm between the forks of the Providence River after the conclusion of the War of 1812. By the time William inherited it, the property his Howland predecessors had owned had increased considerably in size and wealth. William was land rich. Inhabitants of the area accepted him, despite his behavioral quirks. He was, after all, “a real Howland, best blood in the county, best land, and most of the money.” When the major events of the novel occur, he is a widower, his son and daughter are both dead, and he is responsible for the continued welfare of his daughter’s only child, Abigail Howland Mason. The granddaughter Abigail grows up in her grandfather’s rural house separated geographically and socially from her white peers. She is an only child. Her playmates are her grandfather’s three children by his black mistress, Margaret Carmichael. When rare occasions made interaction possible, white children always declined to play with them. The children of William Howland’s black workers refused as well, Margaret’s children’s blood being tainted. Because of her grandfather’s views about race were moderate, because she associated daily with Margaret and her children, and because she was rarely exposed to the blatant racism of the people in the immediate area, Abigail grew up less susceptible to the lure of racial superiority and entitlement. Margaret is a descendant of a “freejack” black man. Freejacks were slaves who fought with General Andrew Jackson against the British at New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812 on the promise made by Jackson that he would free them after the war. Thereafter, freejacks scattered. Many settled in the Alabama swamp area close to Howland property. Margaret’s father was a white road construction worker who had spent two weeks in the swamp area where Margaret’s mother lived. Margaret’s mother abandoned her when she was eight, seeking to find, rumor said, her white lover. William met Margaret when she was 18 -- he, on a lark, searching the swamps for a still and subsequently hiring her as his housekeeper. To untrained Northern eyes, all three of their children could pass as being White. At the age of eleven, upon Margaret’s insistence, each child was sent to a private school in the North never to return. In the North they might have a future. In the South, despite their skin color, they would forever be regarded by Whites and Blacks alike as “niggers.” There is much more about these characters that you must discover. Not surprisingly, this Pulitzer Prize-winning author is a skilled scene-writer. Here are two of my favorites. Margaret’s oldest child Robert contracts pneumonia. William rides into town to fetch the town doctor. My grandfather didn’t tell Harry Armstrong who was sick until they were on the road out of town, and driving steadily on. Harry Armstrong just shook his head, unbelieving. “God damn it, Will, you got me out on a night like this for a nigger kid?” “Looks like,” my grandfather said. “You said it was little Abbey.” “No I never,” my grandfather told him. “You figured that yourself.” “Jesus Christ,” Harry Armstrong said. “I got to be thinking of my practice. … God damn it, Will, with your money you got no cause to worry, but I got to figure what your damn-fool trick’s going to cost me.” “I’ll pay you,” Will said flatly. “When people find out I treated a nigger kid, what kind of a practice do you reckon I have left?” “To hell with them,” my grandfather said. They eventually agreed to circulate the story that Armstrong had been called to treat Abigail for a sudden onset of small pox. This second scene follows Abigail’s expulsion from college – she had attended an elopement of a friend who was a Catholic. Her grandfather was angry with her because he now had to make many telephone calls to influential people to get her reinstated. Abigail is angry that he is angry and angry about being expelled. Margaret spends time with her in the kitchen while William makes his calls in a separate room. “You hungry?” Margaret asked. “No.” “Didn’t have lunch?” “I’m not hungry.” “Soup,” she said. “Take some.” She was sitting by the kitchen table. She’d been waiting for me. “Is he here?” She smiled. “Where else he going?” “On the phone?” “Since you flounced out the house.” “Well, I got reason to flounce,” I told her. “The old bastards at school …” “He don’t like you talking like that,” she said quietly. “Okay. Okay.” I went and looked into the soup pot. “Abby.” I jumped. She almost never called me by name. “You ought called to him this morning, not just leave a message with me.” “I didn’t want to talk to him. I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.” “You hurt his feelings.” “Well, they hurt mine.” She chuckled. “Maybe you better stay out here with me, till the both of you quiet down some.” I took the ladle and stirred the soup, not answering. “He been on the phone all day,” Margaret said. “He’ll fix it for you.” There was pride and satisfaction in her tone that I hadn’t heard before. “I don’t want it fixed.” “Keep out his way tonight, child,” she said. “And take yourself some soup. All that temper’s nothing but empty insides.” I had supper with Margaret, while my grandfather stayed by the telephone in the living room. In a little while she brought him a sandwich and sat there to keep him company. Another writing skill that Shirley Ann Grau demonstrates is her use of sharp sensory detail to convey presence and evoke emotion. Here is an example. William began to remember how a swamp smelled, thick and sweet. And how the water bubbled with rising gases when you stirred it with a stick, how the crawfish hung on the underside of a log, and you picked them off like fruit. The sharp angle a swimming moccasin made—the jut of the neck and the V of waves fluttering out behind. The close smell of unmoving water, of decay. The roar of gators mating, and their wobbling waddle as they launched themselves into the water. The sweet sick odor of the nest banks, the wallows. Finally, what Grau writes is completely authentic. She knows her people. She knows how they live. She tells us that cotton pickers have bigger hands than other people. She writes about how a large, quality wedding is organized, about the seasonal operations of a large farm, about how a husband reacts to the death of his wife from a sudden fever, about how female relatives hammer a widower to remarry, about how subscribing to a New York newspaper brands you a traitor, about how more traumatic it was for a black person to have White blood mixed with his or her Black blood than it was to be pure Black-blooded. And so much more. I did persevere; I did finish the book; it was well worth the time spent.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    This book is initially slow-paced, taking a long time to set up scenery and family histories, but the final vindictive and vindicating crescendo is so pleasurable that any amount of time put into it is well worth your while. The idea that it is ONLY an indictment of racism IN THE SOUTH is rather naive when you consider what happens when the northern-raised son interferes in Louisiana politics and accidentally helps install a violent supremacist. In fact, I loved Keepers of the House precisely be This book is initially slow-paced, taking a long time to set up scenery and family histories, but the final vindictive and vindicating crescendo is so pleasurable that any amount of time put into it is well worth your while. The idea that it is ONLY an indictment of racism IN THE SOUTH is rather naive when you consider what happens when the northern-raised son interferes in Louisiana politics and accidentally helps install a violent supremacist. In fact, I loved Keepers of the House precisely because of the sophistication of its very conception--it's not just message fiction, or else it would be outdated as an Andrea Dworkin book in many parts of the country. It's also not an instruction manual on how to treat your neighbors--it is about misunderstanding, missed connections, one person not hearing another individual person for whatever reason, and the suffering that comes of that for all involved. There is no fair basis on which to be offended; it is an entirely relevant work for any human being, even a generation later. Grau certainly is not attempting to make multiracial families seem "other," in fact, isn't she actually writing to accentuate, examine, and undermine our conception of what is "black" or "white"?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stella

    I am surprised i finished this. It was a struggle. Too many charachters, too much telling and retelling, too many details and lengthy descriptions. The main charachters didn 't have much depth and I didn't care what happened to them. (they were never fully explained, their motives were unclear) But i finished reading it after all, i was trying to see if anything at all happens towards the end, which still says something, otherwise I would have just stopped reading it. There were parts I liked, bu I am surprised i finished this. It was a struggle. Too many charachters, too much telling and retelling, too many details and lengthy descriptions. The main charachters didn 't have much depth and I didn't care what happened to them. (they were never fully explained, their motives were unclear) But i finished reading it after all, i was trying to see if anything at all happens towards the end, which still says something, otherwise I would have just stopped reading it. There were parts I liked, but if I am honest, the only reason I kept reading this is that it had won the Pulitzer and its so famous. So unfair. I won't be doing this again any time soon (continuing reading a book I am not completely thrilled with)

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