Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

My copy was checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia
When Hattie moves from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920's she has no idea what life holds in store for her.  As the first story opens, we witness the death of Hattie's first two children.  The book proceeds from that point, telling the stories of each of Hattie's other nine children.  The one constant throughout the stories is the children's relationships with their mother - both good and bad.  Each child faces a different struggle, but Hattie is the theme that binds them all together.

Although this is classified as a novel, it reads more like a series of connected short stories.  I think it would have been more powerful if the author had approached each unit as a short story, rather than trying to string them together as a novel.  It fell into a middle ground of being too disconnected to be a novel, but without the punch that separate short stories would have packed.  

There was a lyrical quality to the author's writing, particularly, I felt, in the stories of Hattie's sons.  But many times that was overwhelmed by the disjointedness of the book as a whole.  In some characters, the tone and voice of the story varied widely, but others seemed to melt together.  There was a distinction missing between the daughter's voices that I found myself noticing frequently.

Entertainment Value
Hattie's family certainly faces its share of intriguing and titillating issues throughout the course of the book, from homosexuality, to abuse, to infidelity, to domestic abuse, to adoption.  At times it was a little overwhelming just how horrible a time all of Hattie's children, and Hattie herself, have throughout their lives.  There is very little in the way of happiness or redemption for any of the characters.

What bothered me the most is that you would be hard pressed to find a single decent man represented in the book.  Every husband, brother, teacher, uncle, and friend who has the misfortune of being male is a liar, cheater, gambler, abuser.  It just goes on and on.  There are a few flat, secondary characters who we don't get to know enough to determine their position, but for the most part, every man in the book is presented in a negative light.  Combined with the issues facing Hattie's family, it made for a very bleak read.

The narration on this one threw me off a bit.  There's a woman narrator who narrates all of the chapters told in a female voice and a male narrator who narrates the men's chapters.  And then there's one random chapter narrated by a different women, for no discernible reason.  It didn't kill the audio experience for me, but I kept wondering why they had a second woman narrate a single chapter.  Other than that, no issues.

If you're looking for a family saga, I think you can do much better than this.  It just wasn't unique enough to catch my attention and the disjointed feeling made it less enjoyable.  

My copy of this audio was checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia 

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