Fall creeps up on me each year, like a soft kitten stalking prey. All of a sudden there’s a nip in the air, the leaves change colors to a brightly hued spectrum. And suddenly they’re gone. The naked trees, elegantly bare, wave their branches in the Fall wind reminding me that Winter will soon be here and to get my sweaters ready.
Fall also brings the regional trade shows. Booksellers from all over New England come together in Providence, RI to look at, talk about, and touch all of the Fall books. It’s a great time, seeing old friends and discussing what we’ve all read in the past few months. “You really liked that?”I didn’t at all!” “I’ll add that to the top of my reading queue.”
This year I took the train down from South Station each day to Providence, whose station is only a five minute walk to the convention center. I love, love taking the train. It’s so civilized. You show up 10 minutes before the train leaves, everyone calmly boards, and you hope you get a seat on the good side with the views as you go down the coast. It also gives you a chance to read uninterrupted (unless you get caught up in a conversation about Bobby Valentine with the conductor) for a while.
Usually the pretty foliage distracts me from whatever I’m reading on the train. But this time I was lucky to grab a spectacular debut novel called The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Anyana Mathis that absorbed all of my attention. Each chapter tells the story of a different member of the family. Throughout them all, we see Hattie and how early tragedies in her life echo for generations. In the opening story set in 1925, 16 year old Hattie nurses her twin babies sick with pneumonia. Unable to afford a doctor, they die, devastating Hattie for the rest of her life. From here, we move onto other children of Hattie’s, who feel the lack of tenderness from their mother. I was surprised to find that each story gave such vibrant portraits of each family member, telling a vignette that illuminates their entire lives.
Mathis’s novel induces heartache and tears but also respect for the characters. This first novel launches a rare talent, one that I will watch eagerly for her next works.