The Well and the Mine

By Gin Phillips
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Riverhead Trade, (4/8/2009)
Language:English



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With an introduction by Fannie Flagg Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café

A novel of warmth and true feeling, The Well and the Mine explores the value of community, charity, family, and hope that we can give each other during a time of hardship.

In a small Alabama coal-mining town during the summer of 1931, nine-year-old Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches a woman toss a baby into her family’s well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her older sister Virgie to look beyond their own door and learn the value of kindness and lending a helping hand. As Tess and Virgie try to solve the mystery of the well, an accident puts their seven-year-old brother’s life in danger, revealing just what sorts of sacrifices their parents, Albert and Leta, have made in order to give their children a better life, and the power of love and compassion to provide comfort to those we love.

“Gin Phillips has a remarkable ear for dialogue and a tenderhearted eye for detail; you can hear the pecans and hickory nuts falling from the trees and feel the stillness of a hot summer night. A whisper runs through the novel—the ghosts of places and people and luscious peach pies.”—Los Angeles Times

 
 
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"The Well and the Mine"
By Gin Phillips

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

  • Virgie recollects, “Papa said it was an abomination what that woman did. That God would judge her” (p. 25). However, she refrains from judging and imagines the circumstances that might have driven the Well Woman to the deed. Where does Virgie’s compassion stem from?

  • Why doesn’t Sheriff Taylor inform the Moores that the baby was already dead as soon as he receives the inquest results?

  • If the woman and the baby had been black, do you feel that the investigation would have proceeded differently?

  • When Virgie and Tess check on Lola Lowe’s new baby, Lola immediately knows why they are there, and their schoolmate Ellen is clearly embarrassed to have them see her home. Did their attempts to solve the mystery do more harm than good? How pure were their motives?

  • After the stock market crash, Jesse Bridgeman, the banker, kills himself. Why do you think a person who—even after losing most of his money—still had more than most of the townspeople would commit suicide?

  • “Beans and onion. Squash and tomato. It was the different tastes together, the ones that it didn’t make no sense at all to stick on the same fork, that your tongue really remembered” (p. 146). Are there any other examples in the novel when Phillips uses food as a metaphor? What do these metaphors tell us about the world she creates?

  • Would Tess and Jack have learned the lesson their father hoped to impart by taking them to pick cotton if they hadn’t encountered and become friends with the Talbert children?

  • Why doesn’t Albert sue the brick company after their truck driver hits Jack? Such a decision would be unfathomable today. What do you think has changed about our society? Is the change for better or worse?

  • What do you think about Jonah’s explanation of why he won’t have dinner at the Moores? Would you, like Albert, have capitulated? How did Jack’s accident affect Albert’s position?

  • Jonah and Albert feel they can never be real friends because of their race. Have you ever had to disavow or stifle a friendship because of external social pressures?

  • Albert chooses to protect his family over fully expressing his friendship for Jonah. Do you think he made the right choice? What other choices do the characters in the book make that can be read as both good and bad?

  • Did Virgie and Tess do the right thing in keeping the Well Woman’s identity a secret? How might their lives have turned out differently if she hadn’t chosen their well?


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    Amazon.com Review

    Amazon Exclusive:Gin Phillips on The Well and the Mine 

    The Well and the Mine is the story of one Depression-era family in an Alabama coal-mining town, and the single night that forever changes their view of the world around them. While the Moore family and their story are a product of my imagination, the world they live in was very real. It was a time and place shaped by the hard realities of poverty and racism, and there are still echoes of that world in the one we know today.

    Let's start with 1931. Both banks in the coal-mining town of Carbon Hill had closed. The mining industry was close to shutting down, and 75 percent of the town's employment was tied to the mines. Property values were down 60 percent. For all the talk of an economic downturn now in 2009, the stark facts of the Great Depression highlight the gap between then and now. This was the Jim Crow South, with all the strictures of separate-but-not-equal in place. There was no Social Security, no disability, no Medicare or Medicaid, no aid for families with dependent children, no protection for unions. No heath insurance. It was, in large part, life without a safety net. And life was dangerous. If a man was killed in the mines, his widow and children could hope that neighbors or a charity or a church could offer help, but it was only a hope, there was no certainty. On the other side of hope was starvation and homelessness. Mining was demanding, mostly unregulated work. Each morning that a husband or father--there were no women in the mines yet--walked out the door, it was with a family acceptance of the chance that he might not come home. There was a very real chance that he could be killed during an average day's work. But that sense of life on a precipice is part of why this story appealed to me. In the midst of all the brutal labor and struggle and uncertainty, moments of beauty and transcendence have all the more power.

    The plot of the book is entirely my invention. There was no baby thrown in a well, no investigation into the local mothers. Or at least none that I know of. But the people and the places do echo some real-life counterparts. Virgie, the Moore's oldest daughter, has my grandmother's sense of propriety. The youngest daughter, Tess, has my great-aunt's sense of fun. Their mother, Leta, has the efficiency and solidity of my great-grandmother, who died when she was 99 and I was 14. My great-grandfather, a coal-miner, died before I was born, but the stories about his razor-sharp sense of right and wrong are what gave Albert his backbone. My great-aunt still lives in the home my great-grandfather built, and I spent plenty of time in the house as I was writing this novel, sitting on the front porch and looking out over the woods, listening to the sound of the creek as I typed.

    I grew up hearing stories about Carbon Hill in the 1920s and '30s being told across the dinner table or while sitting around the living room with my grandmother and her siblings. When I sat down to write the story of the fictional Moores, I delved back into my family's memories. Those memories helped bring 1931 rural Alabama to life--they gave me the sights and smells and the feel of the past. Bits and pieces of family lore found their way into the story, but also the domestic details and cultural perspectives that are hard to find in library books. Answers to questions like: What kind of underwear would you wear in 1931? What kind of floor cleaner would you use? How did a teenage girl feel about marriage? I never read good answers to those questions in library books, but I hear plenty of answers, simple and complicated, when I asked the right people.

    And yet in the past, there are whispers of the future. The mining industry was unique in Alabama because it had an integrated workforce. In the mines, black men and white men worked side by side in the mines: It was a harbinger of things to come. Albert Moore wrestles with ideas of good and evil--of black and white--and comes face to face with complexities that haunt generations after him. Time and time again, he and the rest of his family struggle to do the right thing--and struggle all the harder to accept the fact that "right" may not always be such a concrete thing. It's that struggle, that drive to do what is fair and that need to see beyond their own perspective, that defines this family. And that struggle has as much relevance in 2009 as it did in 1931.




    From Publishers Weekly
    A tight-knit miner's family struggles against poverty and racism in Phillips's evocative first novel, set in Depression-era Alabama. Throughout, she moves skillfully between the points of view of miner father Albert, hard-working mother Leta, young daughter Tess and teenage daughter Virgie, and small son Jack. They see men who are frequently incapacitated or killed by accidents in the local mines; neighbors live off what they can grow on their patch of land; and blacks like Albert's fellow miner and friend Jonah are segregated in another part of Carbon Hill—and often hauled off to jail arbitrarily. When Tess witnesses a woman throwing a baby into their well, no one believes her until the dead child is found, and few are shocked. Tess, hounded by nightmares, and Virgie, on the cusp of womanhood and resistant to the thought of an early marriage to the local boys who court her, begin making inquiries of their own, visiting wives who've recently had babies and learning way more than they imagined. With a wisp of suspense, Phillips fully enters the lives of her honorable characters and brings them vibrantly to the page. (Mar.) 
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperbackedition. 

    Review
    'The Well and the Mine doesn't just give you characters who'll stay with you - it gives you a whole world' Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe 'A tight-knit miner's family struggles against poverty ... Phillips fully enters the lives of her honorable characters and brings them vibrantly to the page' Publishers' Weekly --This text refers to the Paperback edition. 

    Review
    “A quietly bold debut, full of heart.”—O, The Oprah Magazine “When you close the book, you’ll miss these characters. But The Well and the Mine doesn’t just give you characters who’ll stay with you—it gives you a whole world.”—Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.

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    Gin Phillips lives in Birmingham, Alabama; The Well and the Mine is her first novel.


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