Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: "The Undertaker's Daughter" by Kate Mayfield

We are going to start with a moment of honesty. I didn't pay attention to the fact that the author and the girl in the story had the same name. When I sat down to write this I finally saw it and realized that this was an autobiographical type of story. Ohhhh.Well that explains why I liked it because it felt really real and that not everything was tied up in a neat shiny bow at the end with everyone living happily ever after.

Kate's father is an undertaker, but not like a Adams family undertaker. He's a clothes horse and quick to laugh. Kate idolizes her dad and always thinks that watching him work is fascinating. Kate's mother helps run the funeral home by managing the phones and keeping the kids from sneaking down the stairs to spy during visitations and funerals. Mom and dad don't have much of a relationship, and you find out later why. There are also siblings, older brother and sister Thomas and Evelyn, and then eventually a younger sister named Jemma. (One thing that kind of confused me about the book was the spacing of the siblings. Thomas and Evelyn seemed close in age and then it seemed like a decent sized gap, and then Kate and then an even bigger gap and than Jemma. The dynamic between the kids was not always a friendly one and I was curious if age differences made an impact). Thomas is wonderful and studios, Evelyn is volatile, cruel and moody. They reside in Jubilee, Kentucky which is exactly the kind of town you're picturing, sometimes short of anything resembling jubilation.

Our story follows Kate as she grows, especially as a teenager in the 60s and 70s. The older she gets the more she realizes that there is more going on in her family than she realized as a child. She sees evidences of her father's alcoholism, whispers about infidelity (mostly involving church ladies, which, yeesh), and symptoms of what we call PTSD from her WWII vet father. (I thought that the story of his stomach scar was one of the most compelling parts of the story and that doesn't get wrapped up until the very very end, so they made me wait for it!). Mom is also in denial about a lot of this so that doesn't help at all.

This is a stressful life for all involved. Running a family business, being on call 24/7 for a job that is already emotionally taxing, an unhappy marriage, racial tensions, the Vietnam War, and an increasingly violent Evelyn makes Kate want to get out of Jubilee

I appreciate the realness of the story (because it turns out that it's real, come on Wesley). It highlighted a lot of problems that were happening that still go on today (sadly): stigma about mental illness to a point where it goes untreated, war vets not getting the support they need, racism and bigotry. Not everyone gets a happy ending with this story and I think that's what makes it relatable. (I also want a spin off about the Shroud Lady). A high 3.5 stars out of 5!



  1. This sounds like quite a memoir - so many dramatic elements to it. It's great that it was a solid read!

    1. It's the kind of drama that is fun to read about but none that you want in your real life! ha!


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