Book Reviews

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

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List Price: £12.50


Paperback: 368 Pages.

Published: 14 July 2015 by Gallery Books

Edition: Reprint

ISBN: 9781476757292

EAN: 9781476757292

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death, where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of haunting Southern mystique.

In the turbulent 1960s, Kate's father set up shop in sleepy Jubilee, Kentucky, a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets--except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Frank Mayfield also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, murder, suicide, and all manner of accidents. Kate saw it all--she also witnessed the quiet ruin of her father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool and charismatic facade. As Kate grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, the enforced sobriety of the funeral home begins to chafe, and she longs for the day she can escape the confines of Jubilee and her place as the undertaker's daughter.


4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

Slightly morbid but fascinating

This memoir is about the author's family who lived in the same large house as the undertaker's business that her father ran. It takes place mainly in the 1960s and in a small town in rural America. The author follows the family's story until the death of her father with most of the narrative concerning the way in which they sought to live an ordinary life in an unusual setting.

Some of the book concerns what was done with bodies and the particularly American practice of making up the corpse and then displaying it to family and friends before burial. I have to say that I had a certain morbid fascination with this part of the book but the author always remembers in her telling of various tales that the people concerned are grieving and bereaved.

The other part of the book tells of the small town atmosphere and how her father, as an outsider, was opposed by other small businessmen and eventually lost a legacy that had been left to him by a local woman. This part of the book is important to know because it gives a context to the family story but the parts about the court cases and the legacy did take up too much of the book and seemed a bit like the author trying to put the case in a forum where it cannot be challenged.

Over all, however, this is a highly entertaining memoir, written with a keen observation. The upbringing which the author had was unusual and had particular challenges and is fascinating to read.

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