Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl

by Melinda Haynes

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Overview

Capturing all the rueful irony and racial ambivalence of small-town Mississippi in the late 1950s, Melinda Haynes' celebrated novel is a wholly unforgettable exploration of family, identity, and redemption. Mother of Pearl revolves around twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade, a black man who grew up an orphan, and Valuable Korner, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of the town whore and an unknown father. Both are passionately determined to discover the precious things neither experienced as children: human connection, enduring commitment, and, above all, unconditional love. A startlingly accomplished mixture of beauty, mystery, and tragedy, Mother of Pearl marks the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671774677
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: 06/28/2000
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 773,711
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: 900L (what's this?)

About the Author

Melinda Haynes grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A painter for most of her life, she now writes full time from her home in Grand Bay, Alabama, where she is working on her second novel. She lives with her husband, Ray, and an adopted greyhound, Elaine. Mother of Pearl is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Petal, Mississippi

1956

Even Grade walked past the spot on the bridge where Canaan caught the bottle with his head and saw the blood mark was still there, but just barely. The two-week bake of August sun beginning to mask its humiliation, blending the old man's emission to a color like that of rusted girder. On a day not spent dealing with death, Even would have stopped one more time to wonder over the bigger insult: that Canaan's middle-aged forehead got split by glass and bled out, or that the bottle bearing skin and blood soared over a rail and dropped into the water that he loved. Death or no, Even's suspicion was the same as two weeks back: both. Both were equally bad.

Patting for a shirtfront pocket that wasn't there, he fixed a mark on the sun and gauged the time later than normal by half an hour; summed the earth's indifferent swing as more proof of inconsequential man. On an ordinary day he would have stood still in the spot — left foot in Hattiesburg, right foot in Petal — and considered the river Leaf. The way the trees leaned in low as if made curious by their reflection. The way those leaning trees formed a diminishing edge that followed the water like the furrow of a snake. On a day less strained he would have made a box of his hands and peered through like a blindered horse, feeling less overwhelmed by the viewing of segments. He had never known such colors. Never dreamed brown was such a rainbow. He'd always thought of brown as brown, the color of burnt toast or worn-out shoes. But after months on end he'd learned to parcel out the values into new shades fast approaching the limit of his imagination — Ten-Minute Tea. Steeped-Too-Long Tea. Barely Tea. Wet Bark. Sun-Baked Bark. Old-as-Sin Bark. Old Soggy Leaves. Just-Dropped Leaves. Fresh Wet Leaves. And these were just the browns. He was yet to go on to green, which he was just now beginning to see.

Sniffing the air, he drew in smells of hot grease and pork. Meat grilling somewhere inside Petal's boundaries. Still on the bridge, he searched the water, hopeful for a rainbow in spite of the approach of suppertime, spying out travel-blackened logs lying like sleepers inside a purple shade, but no rainbow. Too late for that. The sun so low, brown was just plain brown again. He glanced over once, saw a vague tea-colored ripple — catfish probably — and shrugged. Willie Brackett's blood was to his undershirt, red soaking in and turning stiff in the breeze, brushing against his arm like a crusty leaf. He walked on. Glanced up once to a maroon sun. Glanced back down again.

When Even passed under the caution light at Central and Main, he saw Canaan sitting on the warm deck of the loading dock of the Feed and Seed. Leaning against the wall, his shades on his bony nose, Canaan had put aside the bandage he'd worn for two weeks. On approach, Even saw the scar was healing up to that of question mark tilted to its side and he wondered over it. Canaan didn't stop reading. Just said from behind newsprint as Even approached, "I do say, Even Grade, somebody dead? Or Hercules Powder givin' overtime to their most talkative nigger? Which is it?"

"Somebody dead."

Canaan looked up. Sometimes when he was startled he took on a resemblance to that of dried-up mummy and that's how he looked then. His mouth frozen open inside a face so lined, tears or sweat or blood would never have a choice in direction. "Thy God, who?"

"Two somebodies — Willie Brackett and James Evans. You got something cold?"

Canaan handed him a green bottle and a slice of hard cheese. Sitting down to the edge of the loading dock beside a man old enough to be his father, Even bit into the cheddar and drank deep from his Coca-Cola. Canaan folded up his newspaper, crossed his arms over his chest, waiting. Realizing nothing would be coming out quick, he pushed his glasses up on his nose and said, "I've known Willie's mama since she got that boy — she ain't gonna make it through this one. Not this time. Lord, what a mess."

"If she'd got there 'fore I picked up his face and tied it back on with my shirt, she'd be dead right now."

"That why you wanderin' around in your undershirt?"

"Yes sir, it is." Even munched on the cheese and thought how good an apple would be with it.

"You there when it happened?"

"Almost. Left the area on break five minutes earlier — "

"You know how it happened?"

"I got me a pretty good idea." Even finished his cheese.

"Well, you wanna tell me 'fore I have to read the cleaned-up union version in the Hattiesburg American?"

Even looked back toward the bridge; wondering where to begin. Canaan knew most of it. That the "Bull Gang," a group of twenty-seven Negroes with varying degrees of mechanic skills, worked whatever the union said to work — scraping out, hosing down, tightening up, loosening what needed to be, by careful degrees. Doing during their swing every low-down shitty job that needed doing, deep down where nobody else wanted to go. He knew they did it with both eyes wide open and steady on their work buddy.

Canaan knew Even worked irregular hours. He knew it was against union regulations. He also knew it didn't matter worth a shit because the union wouldn't let in the Negro in 1956. Union needed the Bull Gang like they needed their balls, but they'd rather take a rusted knife to their own crotch than admit it. Could've used their dues, too. But that didn't matter, either. Not one little bit. Colored was Colored and that was that. No use worrying over it. Better to work at worrying over whether or not your buddy's got his head on straight and able to watch the couplings right, or if he's worried about home or his woman or the numbers he's played and lost big on again and what he's gonna say to the bookie who broke his finger last month and said, "I'm goin' lower next time, nigger — " Better to wonder if that same nigger's closed off that valve good as you would, and is standing there readin' the gauge pressure like his own mama's where you're at. Flat on your back in the mud, breathing turpentine, underneath a pipe labeled three ways in yellow on black: "Warning" and "Toxic" and "Danger." No use worrying about a union in the face of pressing matters that pressed on a body a helluva lot more. Canaan knew these things as good as Even did. Better to tell it as it happened. And so he did.

He told about the siren five minutes into break. How he knew before it quit its scream what had happened. How he knew it was Willie and James because James was horny for a woman he couldn't afford who was driving him crazier by the second. Knew Willie let him slide because he'd had one just like her a few years back and sweet was sweet, no matter the cost. Even knew these things and told them to Canaan. He finished by saying how once the air cleared in sub-level two, the crew had found them both thrown against a boiler in a heap — James still clutching his wrench, burned crisp by molten resin, and Willie splayed wide, his arms spread out like Christ, with no face.

"And that's why I'm an hour late home and shirtless." He finished the last of his Coke and set the bottle on its side, spinning it easy with his finger. He didn't tell Canaan how he couldn't help crying, Oh Jesus...Oh Jesus...Oh Jesus...while he picked up a sheet of skin that used to be a face and put it back on a bloody smear of a thing, or how he fought puking while he pulled off his old blue chambray and wrapped up the head before Willie's mama showed up looking for her only son and found him faceless.

The caution light at Center and Main blinked steady on and off in the middle of the empty intersection where most traveled through on a tractor or beat-up truck, but very seldom in a car. The Quarter — pronounced "niggertown" by the white folks — was still out of sight, still a mile beyond with his small house and others just like it lining red dirt streets named after flowers.

"I'm headed thataway — " Even nodded his head in a direction away from town.

"I'll be on directly. Been reading more about Arkansas and what's stirring there." Canaan tapped the newspaper, still folded in his lap.

"Well, you read then, while the light's easy, but I'm tired."

"I guess you are. After what you seen, you don't need an old man's predictions." Canaan picked up the paper and opened it to its center. Spinning the bottle one more time, Even patted his shoulder and stood up, stretching, meaning to head for home.

"When I was a boy, my daddy took me down to the train depot to see a dead whale." Canaan's low voice was behind him, feathery in the hot wind. "Cost him a quarter just so I could sit up on his shoulder and touch the side of that big ole ugly thing. Never seen so many people in all my life, all straining for a look at something big, dead and pitiful. Folks said it'd washed up in Gulfport and some bright boy thought of carting it up from Biloxi, in steamy summer, stinking to high heaven, just to make a buck or two. Gulls followed, too. Thousands and thousands of 'em. They covered the train cars in front and behind, turned 'em white and noisy. Flew over the crowd. Shit over most everbody. All those birds just sitting there staring. All I could think when I saw that whale and its tiny slitted eyes — barely open and blue-cloudy — was how ugly a thing it was for us to be standing underneath a broiling sun looking at a thing so pitiful. That's what I thought. Just seven, and I thought that. I remember thinking there weren't a tarp big enough to cover a thing of that size, but I sure wished there was." He crossed his legs and shook open the newspaper. "Shirts have been lost over lesser things, Even Grade — I'm sure sorry 'bout those two boys."

Even didn't answer, just raised his hand and waved as he walked underneath the yellow light blinking overhead. He found himself back on the sidewalk and moving past the barbershop and Owl Drug. Canaan's blood there, too. His blood pennies dribbled across half of Petal because some boy in a truck took good aim and hurled a Coke at a wobbly old Negro.

The Quarter was closer now, still not in sight, but closer. Breath came easier thinking of Bellrose Street — a strange name for a place not at all like a bell or a flower, but where his house sat with its faded front porch and the green metal chair. He passed Virginia Street with its tall trees, then on past Cedar Knot Avenue where a couple of kids were rolling a ball out into the street. By that point his neck was relaxed and in spite of things, he found himself humming.

A sea of curly dock grew wild along the clay road, standing in waist-high clusters. And though he'd never noticed the wildflowers before June, he'd met them since and been told more than once that their seeds, still white and hidden, would turn rust-colored once the weather cooled and the days shortened. He'd been told a tea could be brewed from boiling out the yellow root; a tea good enough to cure the stomach and the gums and certain cases of jaundice. He'd been told the leaves were fresher and better than the juice of a ripe lemon and that the seeds could be ground up as meal or coarse flour and baked up as bread. Thinking on it, he watched the curling leaves, caught up and moving in greenish blue waves. A month ago, the hedge was just one more patch of fast-growing green springing up wild on the side of a road he walked day in and day out. Now that patch had a name and a purpose and a deep-seated sermon. Judy had said to him sometime around the middle of June, "The language of 'dock' is patience — you remember that, Even Grade, next time you see it growin' alongside the road or in a wasted place." And while he hummed some nonsense song, he did remember and thought on the true patience of a man and what it might mean and put to sum all the other countless lessons such a woman with such a memory might equal. Stretching his neck, hearing it pop in all directions, he hummed louder, his hands swinging free.

Contrary within himself over his two-sided emotions — feeling such good, sweet relief his week's shift was over on one side, but sick to death over Willie and James on the other — he reached down and pulled off a dark green, wavy leaf and rubbed it between his hands. Waxed and cool, it felt soft and thin along its curl. Folding it up accordionlike, he put the length of it in his mouth and chewed, feeling it unfold and open against his teeth like something still living. He tasted a similarity to lemons and something deeper in that spoke of well-seasoned fish and lemon meringue pie and all those tart, clean foods of summer. Never knew patience could taste so good, was his thought as he saw his street coming at him just a hundred steps away. Knowing he'd turn in and see his porch with its single green metal chair. He liked to sit there at night, leaning back in study of the stars while his nearest neighbor, who was still back a ways reading yesterday's paper on the loading dock, yelled out his thoughts from the porch next door.

Under a hard noon sun the white water tower at the top of the hill had a way of looking like a stripped-down widow woman, all flaked-out and peeling, pale and ugly and sad, but with the sun falling and the sky near purple at the horizon, the tower seemed stately again, its weaknesses shored up and braced; covered over by the evening light. Spitting out patience to the side of his porch he climbed the steps with tired, aching feet, glad to see Saturday on its way, just behind tonight's moon now, with nothing marked down on that fresh page to do either, but whatever it was that happened to come to mind.

— I'm goin' Lo Lo to see Lo Lo, she so Lo Lo, she need Lo Lo...

At the beginning of August, Even Grade was still a happy man.

Copyright © 1999 by Melinda Haynes

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Connie May Fowler

Ambitious in both depth and scope, Mother of Pearl is a dazzling first novel. (Connie May Fowler is Author, Before Women Had Wings

Pat Conroy

A first novel of immense and staggering power. Something absolutely wonderful is going on here and it might be the surprise one feels encountering greatness.

Oprah Winfrey

It is an extraordinary read...Melinda Haynes is my catch of the year.

Interviews

On Thursday, July 29th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Melinda Haynes to discuss MOTHER OF PEARL.


Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, Melinda Haynes. We've been looking forward to this chat for a while and are thrilled to host you online. How are you doing this evening? How has your summer been so far?

Melinda Haynes: It has been an exciting summer. Everything changed around the middle of June, and it took a completely unexpected turn thanks to Oprah. It has been a incredibly exciting time!


Rachel from Franklin: What does the title signify?

Melinda Haynes: The title signifies the protective coating on the inside of an oyster shell. I didn't want readers to misunderstand and believe that MOTHER OF PEARL was signifying Valuable Corner (the mother of Pearl). I wanted it to have a broader message. My meaning for it is the protective coating in a shell that takes care of something really precious.


Beth from Rochester, MN: How did you go about getting MOTHER OF PEARL published? Was it difficult to find an agent/publisher?

Melinda Haynes: I wrote this book for me, for an audience of one, with no expectation of having it published, but my husband loved it and believed in it. Once I had written about 75 pages, he was completely into the story. He knew it was something that needed to be published. He did all the research in terms of finding a publisher as well as an agent. While looking through Poets and Writers, he read the profile of Wendy Weil, and without my knowledge he sent it in to her. I had typed a cover letter with no date on it. I had no idea that it was submitted, and at 4:30pm one afternoon I received a call from Wendy that she was in love with the concept of this novel. I thought she was kidding! I had no experience with the publishing world at all. I have just tried to learn it as I have gone through it.


Terry Wilson from San Jose: How's your tour going? Do you enjoy doing book tours?

Melinda Haynes: I have so far. It has really been wonderful. The tour up to this point has been regional. A lot of driving throughout the South, going to the independent bookstores first and as the larger bookstores became interested, going there. Beginning in October, I will go on a national tour, and I am looking forward to that because I have been buried in the South for my whole life. I really enjoy meeting people one-on-one, and that has been the best experience touring with this book.


Dawn from Geneva, NY: Hi! This was such a good book. Intense. I was wondering, what was your main inspiration behind the plot? What inspired you to write MOTHER OF PEARL?

Melinda Haynes: It came from an internal need that I had. I needed comfort. I needed to believe in humanity. When you face a lot of disappointments in life, you need to spend some time reaffirming what you know is true, and I wanted to write a book that would paint a picture of what my life could have been. I believe everyone is capable of goodness. Everyone carries inside themselves this kernel of nobility and humanity, and this is what I wanted to present. The message for me is that love is the strongest thing in the world. It is all we have that connects us as a family.


Lenore from Baltimore: If you had to explain this novel to someone who is curious to read it but hasn't yet, what would you say? Thanks. Congrats on your success.

Melinda Haynes: I would say that it is a story about a common man who does an uncommon thing. That it is more than how the black and white community comes together but a story about mankind's potential. Anyone who loves characterization will love this novel, because the characters grow on you and by the end of the novel, you will feel like Even Grade is your best friend. It is a hard novel to pinpoint because of its diversity, but I believe it is a fair picture of the South and a picture that is beautiful during one of our ugliest periods in history.


Sarah from Atlanta, GA: Who are some of your favorite authors? Whose work has influenced you the most in your development as a writer?

Melinda Haynes: Definitely Flannery O'Connor. I guess my favorite short story of all time is "The Turkey." But also William Faulkner, James Joyce. My favorite modern recent writer is Annie Proulx. I carry THE SHIPPING NEWS as well as Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING wherever I go.


Julia from Melbourne: Hi...have you been writing long? How long did it take to write your novel? Do you write from an outline?

Melinda Haynes: As far as the outline goes, no. I was a painter for 20 years and really had no idea that I could write. I gave up painting -- and this was commissioned artwork. I painted portraits and was making a good bit of money but just collapsed. I was doing it for someone else, not for me. I thought I was done with anything creative, but the place that I then worked, The Catholic Week, sent me on a tour of Kingston, Jamaica, for a relief organization. I was so moved by what I saw there, the piece that I wrote for the magazine just exploded out of me. I wasn't sure if it was any good, but a coworker came up to me and shook my hand and said, "You write like a tall woman" (I am very petite -- barely 5 feet). I married him two years later! He believed in me and recognized the power of the written word. The most important thing was that I was writing MOTHER OF PEARL for me. The characters took off, and from start to finish it took me six months to write.


Kim McCallie from Savannah, GA: Your current novel is a massive production in both character and plot. I have a question about your writing process. Did you work on the story in the order it is laid out in its final format, or did you complete certain chapters and rearrange them into a sequence later? Thank you, and I look forward to reading your future work.

Melinda Haynes: No, the book as you see it is the way the book presented itself to me. I rewrote one chapter and then eliminated chapter 3 to take it down to the necessary length for Hyperion. I would complete one chapter and immediately know the opening sentence for the next. It was like the characters were there in front of me and performing for me. I could barely keep up with them. I never studied writing, so I didn't have any idea about plotting or anything else. I would guess that because I spent so much of my life reading -- it has given me a little bit about what is necessary to do this.


Monica from Detroit: What went through your head when Oprah called and picked your book? How has this experience changed your life? Well deserved!

Melinda Haynes: Thank you! Disbelief. When she called, it was about 5:30 in the afternoon and I was working. When I picked up the phone, a woman said in a very low voice, "I just finished MOTHER OF PEARL and I loved it. How did you do it?" My first thought was that she was a coworker and didn't want her boss to know that she was on the phone on personal business, so I started chatting away and finally about seven minutes later I realized I never asked who it was, so I said, "Who is this?" And she said, "Oprah Winfrey!" and I said, "No, it's not!" and then I dropped the phone. She went on to say that not only did she love the book but was choosing it as her summer book club selection. I was stunned. The way it has changed my life is this: People have found out who I am. Here in Grand Bay I have lost a little bit of my privacy, but I am working really hard to keep it simple here because this is where the writing comes. I am just so happy that people have met these characters, and it is a miracle because the first printing was so low. It is now in its third printing, which seems like an even bigger miracle.


Moderator: Are you still painting? Did you have anything to do with the design of the book? Did your typesetting experience help you?

Melinda Haynes: I submitted the book typeset. It was easier for me to write with something that looked like a page in a book rather than the standard double spacing. The company didn't use it, though. But to answer your question, yes, my typesetting experience did help. It was easier to write that way. I am very pleased with the cover, but I had nothing to do with it. I didn't broadcast that I was an artist to Hyperion.


Tammy from Baraboo, WI: Hi, Melinda! Great book so far! I find it to be a complex read with much color behind each character, which I assume will fall into place later in the book. I have a couple of questions for you. I'm only a quarter of the way into the book, so maybe some of this will emerge yet. What does the "pig" dream signify, and is more than one character experiencing a similar dream? Please describe Joody Two Sun. Does she actually have a home? About how old is she? And where do these characters come from? Are they based on people you know? Thanks, and enjoy your success -- it's really well deserved! It's nice to read a book that has some feel to it instead of just a light read!

Melinda Haynes: The gutted sow explains herself in the chapter entitled "Cold Noise." She is symbolic and signifies what can actually be killed in a person, and by that I mean there is a certain part of us that can never die. There is a purpose in these crossover dreams, and she has an important message. Joody is 37 years old in my mind. She has lived a life of wandering, moving from place to place. She is moving away from her home in Arizona because it was a place of bad memories. Even Grade is in search of home and the truth behind who he is. Joody Two Sun is happy in who she is without that knowledge. The two are opposites, and that is why they attracted. The characters are not based on anyone I know. I borrowed the names from my relatives, and that was it.


Shelby Spruill from Roper, NC: Hello, Ms. Haynes. I have not had much time for my favorite pastime lately, which would be reading; therefore I haven't read your book as of yet, but I will real soon. It sounds wonderful. I trust Oprah! Have you toured the state of North Carolina yet?

Melinda Haynes: Not yet, but I hope to. I will be in North Carolina for the Southeastern Booksellers Association October 2nd and 3rd (in Greensboro). I have heard North Carolina is beautiful, and I can't wait to see it.


Jonathan Joleb Braswell from sweet home: Just to let you know, you're the first one who's going to receive a graduation invitation...no gifts please, cash will do just fine! Just kidding. I just want to let the world know that I am extremely proud of my big sister!

Melinda Haynes: That's my brother! Now get off the line and go study!


Cathy from St. Louis: Which of your personal life experiences most influenced the story line/characters?

Melinda Haynes: I would guess finding love after 20 years in an unhappy marriage. It made me empathize with Canin and Grace as well as Even and Judy. I identify the most with Joleb. He has lived his life believing that he is a failure and responsible for pain in other people and that he is not worth a lot. This was my mindset in my early years because of the panic disorder. I quit the public school system in the 11th grade because of this, and had to find the truth of my own self-worth later in life, so I feel a great deal of sympathy for Joleb. There is no real parallel, just a realization that occurred when I found peace and happiness. This is what led me to writing.


Sharon from Pasadena, TX: I enjoy listening to books on tape and have all the other "Oprah books" on tape. Will yours be on tape any time soon?

Melinda Haynes: Yes, it will be out this fall on cassette and CD.


Melanie from Dayton, OH: When will your appearance on Oprah air? I want to be sure not to miss it!

Melinda Haynes: From all I understand it will be the Tuesday after Labor Day. This is what they told me back in June. She is already doing the promo for it every Tuesday.


Jerry from Rockville: Tell us about the two quotes that you picked to introduce your book. What special meaning do they have to you and the story?

Melinda Haynes: The first one is by Sophocles: "Fate has terrible power." I just believe it is a true statement, and it is something that has guided me. The second is by Faulkner about fate. I believe that we know in our subconscious that certain things guide us. We know things that we aren't even aware we know. This is what happened while I was writing it. I was able to write about the library in Hatsburg and the church that faces it even though I had not been there since I was 5 years old, and it was a true memory. The second quote is really talking about the power of instinct, and I believe that is just as powerful as fate.


Seth from Baltimore, MD: Your characters have such interesting names -- Even and Valuable. How did you choose these? Did you name your characters as you developed them, or from the moment you started writing?

Melinda Haynes: Even Grade's name is based on something personal that happened to me. I have three grown daughters, and two are married. My middle daughter, Spring, was going through a hard time in her marriage. She had just had a baby, and she called to say that she was separating from her husband and wanted to move home. We live in a trailer in Grand Bay, and Ray is my second husband but he loves my daughter just like my own. I was crying, and Ray was upset, and of course we told her to come home, she had a place. When I hung up, Ray had disappeared. I went outside looking for him, and I heard the sound of our tractor. I followed the sound and saw that he was regrading our driveway, which did not need grading. I could see that he was grieving in his own way and trying to come to terms with this sad time. I said out loud, "If ever there is a man looking for an even grade, it is that one." That is where this name came from. I knew this character would be a strong one and a quiet one, and it just stuck and took off from there.

As far as Valuable goes -- we were riding down Highway 90 and passed an intersection that was terribly trashy, but someone had put a big sign there that read "Valuable Corner: Property for Sale," and underneath the sign they had planted roses. This was the ugliest corner I had ever seen in my life, but the sign said something to me, and this is where her name came from. I changed the spelling of her name with a K, of course. Overall, the other characters just seemed to have their own names; it sounds strange, but that is really just how it happened.


Claire from Mt. Washington: Have you started a second novel? Give us a sneak peek!

Melinda Haynes: Yes, I have. It is completed. The name of that novel is CHALK TOWN, and in a nutshell: Try to imagine Joleb on a road trip. I am in the final edit of it right now. It is already at Hyperion and hopefully will be out in a couple years.


Mannie from Michigan: What does the label "Southern writer" conjure up for you? Would you include yourself?

Melinda Haynes: I just consider myself a writer. Of course I am Southern; it has given me a particular slant on life, and I do love the Southern writers. The heat is so bad down here that I feel that is one reason that Southern writers' characters are so colorful and highly developed (the writers are staying inside to escape the heat). When I think of a Southern writer, I immediately think of Flannery O'Connor. Here she was dying of lupus and still able to draw on those internal visions that are so important to us now. I believe Southern writers have to be strong because our past is there haunting us. It is a thing we can never completely escape.


Moderator: Chatting with you has been time well spent, Melinda Haynes. Congratulations on the success of MOTHER OF PEARL, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your summer. Do you have any final comments for the online audience?

Melinda Haynes: I just appreciate all the questions and the interest, and I hope that the book will speak to you and you will learn a little about yourself and the potential we all have. I have always loved words and been moved by them. This is all I have ever wanted -- that someone would read something by me and be moved by it. It is encouraging to know that this is happening.


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Mother of Pearl 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
kellisat More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by my sister so I read it. I like the ending, but the rest is very wierd. There were several times when I put it down because I was frustrated at the wierdness. I just don't think some of the things that the characters do are realistic. I did finish it and like I said the end is very touching.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like most, I started reading the book and couldn't get past the description of a man walking a bridge. it was so boring. Two mins. into the book I put it down and didn't even consider reading it until i had nothing else to read. I enjoyed this book. The characters were amazing and well constructed and the whole southern soul of it had me hooked like no other book with this kinda context. I enjoyed it. !
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book expecting to put it down after a few chapters and never touch it again. The description on the back of the book didn't really appeal to me. Twenty pages into it and I was hooked. This author is highly talented. She gave so much depth to the characters and she intricately wove the story of their lives together. This book has spirit and excitement unlike any other book I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one was fun. Left me with questions but that is ok. I loved the characters and their names too. Sad, funny, and uplifting also.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Born and raised in Alabama, I found that Melinda Haynes' vivid description of southern life to be strikingly true to reality. The southern connection made it all the more special to me. I loved the book, however, (and I know some may disagree with me) I wish it was longer! I would love to know more of Valuable's family history, more about what shaped Neva into the woman she is during these events, and especially what happened to Jackson! I'd also have loved to see Pearl grown up too. Melinda Haynes' writing is so compelling, that I felt as though these characters were not only life-like, but also as if they were my blood relatives. I wept and rejoiced for them. And as with my own kin, I would love to see how things turned out for everyone else. Very tragic and touching, this book is not only a stellar pick from Oprah's list but also is sure to be studied in colleges, especially here in the southeast.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A JOY TO READ FROM BEGINNING TO END. THE CHARACTERS COME TO LIFE,,,,,,TRUE GENIUS
Guest More than 1 year ago
I took this book on my honeymoon, which probably wasn't the best idea because I couldn't put it down! This is definitely not the kind of book you should buy if you want mindless, easy reading (see 'Bridget Jones' Diary'). This one is very involved and turns and keeps you wanting more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book that seems quite boring at first but, by chapter 6 it becomes hard to put down. a story of two people who happen to meet under just the right circumstances. They seemed have so littel in common, but in reality they so much have in common. The story of Val and Even's lives make you feel for them. Both were abondened by their mothers, had to learn to trust, and had to learn that the human spirit is a wonderful thing. All the time that they are trying to stay inside their shells they are being forced out by those around them. The supporting characters are superb and only add depth to the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel was very slow in the beginning. It took some time to get into it, but once I did I enjoyed it. I liked most of the characters, and the storylines. It was not the best book, but it was far from the worst.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many books from the Oprah book club and this is one of the most enjoyable!! The writing is descriptive and the text pulls you into the characters' world with interest and the desire to continue reading!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't really like this book. I read 200 pages so far...and I am like...Get to the point. I am expecting something great to happen...and nothing happens. I am still stuck on page 200. so far...a crippled white woman dies...a kid runs away. It is hard to follow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tried, I really did, to 'get into' this story, but between the language and the inability to follow all the characters, I could not finish it.I am an avid reader, reading a book a week or more, but this was one I just could not get through.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my second attempt to read this book. It took getting to the middle to understand what was going on and I am still not sure. It definitely was not one of my favorites. But it was okay.
Guest More than 1 year ago
However, I couldn't read the whole thing. I didn't understand some of the language. It was very confusing (as far as characters go) and as much as I love reading, especially Oprah's picks, I did not get through this one. I even bought the hard-cover version, despite the cost, but did not like anything about this book.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this story much more than I was expecting. I was expecting (and frankly not looking forward to) one more story about growing up poor in the South (your typical Oprah fare). What I found instead were memorable characters, believable emotions, and clever prose. After reading a biography of the author, I'm even more impressed.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this novel difficult to get into and a hard read overall. Mother of Pearl does offer a vivid picture of life in a small Mississippi town in the 1950s and a cast of interesting characters does propel the plot forward to a satisfying conclusion. Still, I felt the writing could have been much better and much easier to read. I was originally only going to give this book two stars, but I did like the ending enough to feel it deserved three.
wanderingeileen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in the summer of 1956, a bottle breaks over the head of the elderly, scholarly Canaan Mosely. Even Grade, an orphan, searches his heart over Joody Two Sun, his mysterious lover with nine fingers, who wears sticks in her hair to mark her years, who knows and sees things other humans can not. Just Plain Grace Johnson tends to the frail and drooling Mary Green, who was frozen by a stroke the day her son, Joleb, was born. Valuable Korner and her best friend, Jackson, are talking in the community graveyard atop a hill.And out on the train tracks, Burris Green is looking for the face of God in the light of an oncoming train...All of this information can be gleamed within the first chapters, leading me to believe that the characters of Melinda Haynes' novel, "Mother of Pearl," are easily the strongest part of this thick book. At 445 pages, it took me around a week to finish it; while it's lengthy, Haynes' writing style is also simplistic. I never felt lost, although I do think sometimes she drags the plot and characters down with an excess of description. I prefer clean, cut-and-dry brevity, allowing my own powerful imagination to fill in the gaps, rather than having the writer lead me to visual conclusions.However, I will say that the characters are inspiring. After reading this book, I can't seem to get them out of my head; lanky Joody, tortured Joleb. If there's one thing Haynes did masterfully in this book, it was construct those characters, give them depth and feeling. She guides the reader through snapshots of the characters' lives in each chapter of this book, and about a third of the way through it all starts to get really entertaining. Whenever I had to put the book down, I found myself wanting to return to it, worried about the characters and what might happen next.The plot has its twists and turns, but overall this book is more about revealing the nature and history of the characters, and sending a message of the interconnectedness of all lives (especially in a small town), rather than sweeping the reader along a trail of events.I would reccomend this book to anyone who enjoys novels about the complicated and beautiful situations life in a small Southern town may bring -- including love and friendship that transcend race, age, sexuality and time. The only other thing I can say about this novel is that reading fiction is a deeply personal experience, and there isn't one message alone to be gleamed from this story or its characters.If you decide to pick up "Mother of Pearl," I hope the experience is a beautiful one for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chanel5Girl More than 1 year ago
Melinda Haynes has done a terrible job clarifying her characters. Like reviewers I have made it to 200 pages and I usually read a bad book just so I can feel a sense of achievement. Her book sucks. The beginning was good until sjhe in cludes Juleb. He from nowhere and has sprung from some place Haymes doesn't explain. Usually Oprah picks are dead on, but what in the name of God what was she thinking. Where is the story line, there is no story line just a bunch of characters living a boring life. I'll like a fool will try again to finish but I do not see wht others saw in this novel. Clearly taste is lacking. What is the book about? It better make sense in the end because this is the worst Oprah book yet, let alone the worst book I've ever read!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Initially, I tried to read this book on a few occasions, but got too tangled up in the wordy descriptions and quit before I got to the 2nd chapter. Patience paid off. Desperate for a good read, I made another attempt to get through this book and was glad I did! That which turned me off in the beginning turned out to be the very riches in this book. It is worth the trip through. I passed it on to a good friend to read.