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Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, by Barbara Taylor

July 11, 2014

Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, by Barbara J. Taylor.   Akashi Press: Kaylie Jones Books (2014), Paperback, 256 pages

A melodramatic novel about a family in a coal-mining town, struggling to recover from the death of one of its daughters.

Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the early 1900s, this novel traces a Welch coal-mining family seeking to come to terms with the death of their nine-year-old daughter, Daisy. The father turns to drink and leaves the family. The mother withdraws into the company of Grief, a seductive man, invisible to all but her, who encourages her self-pity. Rose, a year younger than her dead sister, blames herself for everything that goes wrong. Flashbacks to events before the girl’s death and incidents surrounding the tragedy slowly illuminate what happened and explain the characters’ reactions to it. A massive snowstorm and an evangelical preacher sweep the story to its climax.

Barbara J. Taylor is a resident of Scranton. She grew up in the town and now teaches school there. Her love of the place and its people give the book a somewhat nostalgic tone, despite the tragedies related in the story. While she accurately describes the enormous risks of coal mining, the community itself seems unusually comfortable and secure. None of the gritty poverty that was typical of such places ever appears. No one ever worries about being hungry. Ethnic divisions are present, but appear to be relatively harmless. The activities of the church goers are mildly amusing, but never vital to the main characters. The death of a loved one and the ongoing risks of coal mining are chilling and real, but overall the town appears as smugly middle-class.

Other readers will probably like this book more than I did.  I prefer books with less nostalgia and more literary merit.

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