“The coal mines were one of the only places where black and white men worked side by side. Those miners did brutal, backbreaking work together, rarely seeing the light of day. They knew that each day in the mines could be their last. As I read the in the miners’ letters about the possibility of unions, strikes and their attempts to make their situation better, it became apparent to me that what these men lived through with each other went beyond skin color. If there was an enemy, it was the wealthy mine owners. Men in Albert’s position saw that the issue of whites versus blacks only distracted them from making the important changes.” In the novel Phillips shifts perspectives, using first person accounts of the different family members as the story unfolds. Her use of these different voices and viewpoints adds depth and an authenticity that is so tangible readers can alternately smell the acrid air of the coal mine where Albert works and then taste the sweetness of Leta’s fried peach pies. The characters in The Well and the Mine
emerge as a study in contrasts: strong yet vulnerable, sweetly simple and amazingly complex. The five members of the Moore family are achingly human to the point that the reader, like the author, will miss their company when The Well and the Mine ends. The parents, especially Albert, seem astonished that they’ve managed to raise such beautiful, smart and caring children. And the children are somewhat in awe of their parents and the sacrifices they make so all three of them can have a better life. “With all the characters, family is incredibly important; each one values it above everything else. The Moores have so little control over most of their lives, so little power over things other than their family.” Her work in The Well and the Mine has been compared to the writing of both Harper Lee and Willa Cather, but Gin Phillips is quick to tell you that she never aspired to be classified as a ‘Southern writer’. “It hadn’t really occurred to me that there is such a label. I do love being from the South…I just don’t want my writing to be
confined to subjects I already know well.” Phillips’ next novel is far removed from her roots and concerns a subject totally new to her. Two archaeologists unearth an ancient artifact at a dig in contemporary New Mexico. “It’s part mystery, part love story and part ghost story.” In addition to all the positive reviews and lofty praise for The Well and the Mine, she received a very prestigious award that offers promising new writers both financial and marketing support: the 2009 Barnes and Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers Award” for fiction. The award came with a $10,000 cash prize and a yearlong marketing campaign from the national bookseller. “It is deeply satisfying…thrilling…to see something take shape that came out of your head as if it existed already and you’re just entrusted to tell the story,” Phillips reflects. “It still seems astonishing that people will pay you to tell stories. It’s not a bad way to make a living.” Lisa Berryhill writes about books too.
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Published on Aug 11, 2010