Sights Unseen, by Kaye Gibbons

Cover ImageFinished 5-29-09, rating 3.5/4, fiction. pub. 1995

Both she and Mr. Barnes were of a time when properly raised Southerners equated informality of address with being common, with going to the door in stocking feet or talking about one’s gout at the table.  Because I did not yet know my mother well enough to assign an indisputable motive to her, I was unsure if her informality signaled welcome familiarity or disrespect.

Chapter 9

Hattie was conceived in the hope that she would provide her mother with something to do and bring her back to the land of the normal.  That did not happen and Hattie’s mother, Maggie, spent years hurting her family with her manic depression.  Hattie had their live-in cook/maid/nanny/ nursemaid, Pearl, to provide the  love and understanding that her mother could not.   This was 1960’s North Carolina and Maggie was eventually taken to Duke to be cured.  Hattie was hopeful that Maggie would come back whole and make up for the years she went without a mother. 

This is told in first person years into the future after Hattie is grown with her own children and the story is told with a child’s honesty and an adult’s perspective.  The story of her childhood is heartbreaking.  Not only her mother’s mother’s direct beahvior, but also the fact that Hattie and her brother never had a friend to their house because they never knew what their mother’s condition might be.  But this was offset by stories of Maggie’s high times when she would go on shopping sprees and keep her husband in the bedroom for days. 

It was not at all what I expected.  I expected a story, but this was more of a recollection of a difficult childhood, which I liked, but it was lacking something for me.  I wanted more.

It is a charming southern read that can be read in one sitting.

11 thoughts on “Sights Unseen, by Kaye Gibbons

  1. I’ve read a few other books by Kaye Gibbons but not this one. I just popped over to your blog afer reading about it on Bookfan Mary’s blog. I like that you review a variety of newer and older books.

    I see that you are from Ohio and an OSU grad…so am I!! There aren’t many of us Ohio Book bloggers.

  2. So, Maggie is the name of the crazy mother! ;D Pshew, I don’t have children. Think of the anguish I saved short humans! Hope your next book is a gem.

  3. Sounds pretty interesting, but books about hard childhoods always seem to upset me! I tend to avoid books that seem like memoirs for that reason. But I love books set in the South, so you never know! :) Good review!

  4. Good thing this book could be read in one sitting as it sounds like a downer. Very sad to read about things like that happening to children. Your next read has to be something light.

  5. I read Ellen Foster when it first came out and some of Gibbon’s other books, but have forgotten about her lately. This makes me want to go back and read the books I’ve missed. The Ellen Foster books are based on Gibbons’ own childhood. Writers who have had a difficult childhood often till that same ground, maybe in the hopes of finding some resolution?

    I read Ellen Foster years ago too, but this was my first one since. I didn’t realize they were based on her own childhood. Gives the story extra depth. Thanks for mentioning it!

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