A much heralded debut novel that comes with the Oprah Book Club seal of approval, what could possibly go wrong? A portrait of the titular Hattie, told through the eyes of her 11 children and 1 grandchild, with each chapter focusing on a different member of the tribe, this sounds like a breeze. And that was my problem. It was a little too breezy. A little too glossed over and surface-y. I wanted it to go a little deeper.
It’s a nice idea, to devote one chapter to an individual member of the tribe (or in two cases, to two members of the tribe with a shared story), but there’s some problems that come with that. Firstly, once the chapter is over, the tribe members are pretty much out of the story altogether, which makes it difficult to care about them. Secondly, it’s not strictly adhered to, with one chapter in particular dealing more with events going on around them, than with the tribe member themselves.
The other main problem I had with the book, is the portrait of Hattie it paints is of a thoroughly unpleasant woman. I know that someone in her circumstances is hardly going to be all sunshine and lollipops, but I found her endless barrage of mean to be a little wearying.
But this is making me sound like a Debbie Downer who hated the book. I didn’t. I really very much enjoyed the book, there’s some strong and beautiful writing here. All the characters, whether they are pleasant or not, are all richly and deeply drawn. That’s no mean feat, given the constraints Mathis put on herself to sketch them in. A striking and very promising debut, which only loses the 4th star for its lack of depth.