Book Review: Cross Creek

Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

It had been my belief that Marjorie Rawlings was a bit of a one-hit wonder, as she is largely known today only for her novel The Yearling, which is one of those weepy melodramatic books about dead animals that many young people are forced to read in school [1].  As it turns out, Rawlings was more prolific than that, and this book is an entertaining and humorous and somewhat airbrushed memoir about the author’s experience living alone in rural Alachua county and occasionally traveling to Tampa for various and unexplained reasons as well as the occasional medical disaster like breaking her neck.  As someone who grew up in rural Central Florida, this book definitely is one  that I can relate to from my own background, and I found a lot to laugh about even if the book left me with some questions about the author’s approach and her decision to write so little about her personal life except as it dealt with her relations with black servants and poor white neighbors (which is very interesting and quite revealing of her own racial and class attitudes) as well as her relationship with the local plants and animals of Florida, which is more entertaining.

The book itself is divided into various chapters that are more or less thematically rather than chronologically organized.  For example, the author begins with a discussion of  the place where she lived, the general unfriendliness of the neighborhood as well as its natural beauty, and her efforts at getting to know others well through assisting with the census count, which gave her a good excuse to travel all over rural Alachua county (the area outside of Gainesville).  After discussing her relationship with some of the poor whites in the area, where her educated ways made her an occasional busybody, she discusses her various efforts at having various black servants, who proved to be man-crazy, incompetent, alcoholics, or subject to the whims of parents, and generally not very good servants despite the author’s sympathy with the plight of rural blacks.  The author talks about animals, including pigs, snakes, and various varmints.  A series of chapters discusses the four seasons as they appeared in Cross Creek, the workings of the local justice system (!), and a discussion of who owns Cross Creek.  By and large, we get a good idea of the author’s views about rural life and the importance of cooking and her efforts at relating to those around her.

Nevertheless, the book does lead the reader to a wide variety of questions about the author and what she was about.  For one, the author is extremely coy about the breakdown of her first marriage and how it was that she ended up marrying again.  Her unpleasant discussions of her neighbors led to legal trouble that kept the author from writing a sequel to the book, which would likely have been entertaining as well.  The author talks on occasion about gay friends who she invites over, but it is impossible to know the sense in which she means the term (are they happy or did she invite Truman Capote to stay with her, in other words), as she is so reserved about her emotional life.  What was so attractive about Cross Creek and its remoteness to her?  What was she running away from to live in the middle of nowhere around oppressed rural blacks paid at what she admitted were scandalous rates and poor whites who sought to avoid work and education?  The book is certainly full of humorous and sometimes waspish commentary, but it leaves the reader puzzled about the author’s motives for having been where she was in the first place, as much as she serves as a humorous observer of her surroundings in which she is obviously out of place.

[1] See also Where The Red Fern Grows, among others.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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