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The 1950s and 1960s were years of shifting values and social changes that did not sit well with many citizens of Richmond, Virginia, and in particular with one conservative family, a staunchly southern mother and father and their two daughters. A powerful evocation of time and place, this memoir - a gifted poet's first book of prose - is the story of an inquisitive and sensitive young woman's coming of age and a deeply moving recounting of her reconciliation later in life with the family she left behind.Returning us to a Cold War world marked by divisions of race, gender, wealth, and class, "The Prodigal Daughter" is an exploration of difference, the powerful wedge that separates individuals within a social milieu and within a family. Echoing the biblical Prodigal Son, Margaret Gibson's memoir is less concerned with the years of excess away from home than with the seeds of division sown in this family's early years. Hers is the story of a mother proud to be a Lady, a Southerner, and a Christian; of two daughters trapped by their mother's power; and of their father's breakdown under social and family expectations.Slow to rebel, young Margaret finally flees the world of manners and custom - which she deems poor substitutes for right thought and right action in the face of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War - and abandons her fundamentalist upbringing. In a defiant gesture that proves prophetic, she once signed a postcard home "The Prodigal." After years of being the distant, absent daughter, she finds herself returning home to meet the needs of her stroke-crippled younger sister and her incapacitated parents.In this tale of homecoming and forgiveness, death and dying, Gibson recounts how she overcame her long indifference to a sister she had thought different from herself, recognizing the strengths of the bonds that both hold us and set us free. Interweaving astute social observations on social pressures, race relations, sibling rivalry, adolescent angst, and more, "The Prodigal Daughter" is a startlingly honest portrayal of one family in one southern city and the story of all too many families across America.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780826217837
ISBN-10: 0826217834
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 15mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: University of Missouri Press
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publish Date: 15-Mar-2008
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » Poet Gibson (One Body, 2007, etc.) applies keen intellect to the formidable task of recapitulating the essentials of one's childhood.In this memoir of family life, specifically the early years with her parents, the author dissects the rights and wrongs and confounding mysteries of parental and sibling relationships. Gibson was raised in Richmond, Va., in the 1950s and '60s by white, fundamentalist-leaning Christian parents who demonstrated patronizingly (but not aggressively) racist tendencies. Gibson and her sister constantly battled for the attention of their mother, a self-styled "Lady" who exerted constant control as a function of both love and duty. Their father struggled with the pressures of social expectations, class and race. The author's remarkable facility with the language of emotion and personal insight allows her to share the flow of youthful feelings that began to push her in her own direction, away from the narrowly defined "family values" espoused by her parents. For example, Dad often used his belt as punishment for serious misbehavior or disrespect. In Gibson's mind, this brutal demonstration of so-called parental love may be compared to the biblical Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac for the love of God. One day, finding herself sequestered in reflection under a lilac bush, watching her father mow the lawn, she realizes: "I could run away and not leave the backyard." Eventually, however, she does get away physically, and spiritually, from her conventional family and its precepts. Years later, her father overcome by alcoholism and emotional collapse, her sister disabled by a stroke and her mother aging, Gibson returns to find bonds that had never really broken.Tensions and tenderness, beautifully rendered. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Margaret Gibson

Margaret Gibson is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Icon and Evidence, Autumn Grasses, and One Body. She is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut and lives in Preston, Connecticut.

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