Given the novel’s setting, the reader will surely anticipate systemic racism, but even so may be caught off guard by scenes in the book...Yet Memphis is far from joyless, conveying a world where blithe gratification is garnered through traditional women’s work — seamstressing, hairdressing, nursing — as well as through less conventional pursuits, as with the 1960s Black female radicals who find a welcome space for strategizing on Hazel’s porch. There is the sense that these women are familiar to Stringfellow, who, after years of living abroad (Okinawa, Ghana, Cuba, Spain, Italy), has, literally and figuratively, returned home ... Still, there is some discordance in the book’s logic. Only Joan’s chapters are written in the first person, and even as a 10-year-old girl, she expresses herself in a manner more akin to an adult. Then, years later, as a high school junior taking honors history, she oddly has not even heard of the New Deal ... Contradictions aside, Memphis is a rhapsodic hymn to Black women.
Sweeping ... The path to...joy leads through decades of trauma, and during much of that time, hope is all these characters possess. Indeed, Stringfellow has a lush, romantic style that’s often the only counterweight to the grim details of her story ... The novel’s scrambled chronology initially feels like a challenge, but the chapters are clearly dated and named as they move to focus on a grandmother, her daughters and her grandchildren. Readers will come to see that Stringfellow is demonstrating the erratic movements of history, the false starts and reversals and, yes, the moments of progress that are reflected in our haphazard march toward realizing King’s vision for America ... There is, however, one irreducible problem with Miriam’s plan and, I think, with Stringfellow’s novel. In the first chapter, we learn that the last time Miriam visited, her then-3-year-old daughter, Joan, was raped by her sister’s 8-year-old son. Now that boy is a teenager, and Joan is so terrified to see him that she immediately wets herself. She will spend the next few years living with him ... Try as I might, I could never get beyond the shocking implausibility of this move ... I don’t mean to criticize the plot, per se; fiction should be free to reach for the infinitely bizarre events of real life. The issue, really, is that Memphis never commits itself to the considerable work of making this ghastly event psychologically persuasive ... It’s eventually clear that these things must come to pass so that Stringfellow can engineer a redemptive story of forgiveness. But along the way, she fails to contend sufficiently with the lasting damage and complications of incest and sexual abuse ... Fortunately, other parts of Memphis are more convincing and subtle. With her richly impressionistic style, Stringfellow captures the changes transforming Memphis in the latter half of the 20th century ... The most lovely, even inspiring element of Memphis is the story of Joan’s artistic ambitions.
Ferocious and compassionate ... Stringfellow deftly weaves the voices of four women over three generations. Her women are vivid, formidable and funny, exposing the legacy of racial violence not just within the microcosm of family or the titular city, but nationally ... The city shimmers under Stringfellow’s assured prose ... This novel is, in many respects, a Künstlerroman, a portrait of an artist as a young black woman ... Memphis reaches back to literary mothers and towards potential daughters, honouring the strength, creativity and resilience of black women.
Description is Stringfellow’s great gift. Whether describing the house or the city of Memphis, each scene is grounded in its setting. Greater still is the way Stringfellow describes people, especially the women ... Stringfellow repeatedly returns to these tensions, the push-pull between mother and child that proves the countless ways we both comfort and fail our children, asking the question: Is love enough? ... a family tree has its limitations. It cannot show you these unnamed relationships, the ones that hold a person and make her. For that, you need art: giant canvases like the ones Joan paints, or tender and honest narratives like Tara M. Stringfellow’s Memphis.
Stringfellow has crafted a rich tapestry of women’s familial relationships. Occasionally, she may restrain her characters emotionally, which flattens their dimensionality, but overall this is a well-written debut by an author worth watching in years to come. Recommended for anyone who appreciates Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, or Gloria Naylor.
... a wonder of a novel ... Through her poignant and heartfelt prose, Stringfellow honors the spirit of her city as she brings three generations of a Black matriarchal family—and their resilience, determination and endless capacity for love and joy—into the spotlight ... Stringfellow’s intricately developed details are unrivaled, and the simplest moments make the North family instinctively relatable. It’s not the parties, calamities or deaths that hold a reader’s attention in Memphis, but rather a walk to buy butter pecan ice cream on a Friday afternoon, or a quiet afternoon spent with Joan and her sketchbook. With honesty and genuine affection, Stringfellow captures each of her characters’ unique personalities while preserving their uncanny familial resemblances. Furthermore, Memphis establishes a new standard for the role of a setting in a novel; Memphis is celebrated not only as a place but also as a people, a culture and, most importantly, a community ... Stringfellow has created an irresistible family in the Norths, who are sure to be beloved by readers for the ways in which they persevere.
This vivid debut novel examines the tragedies, joys, and deep connections of one extraordinary Memphis family ... [Joan's] coming of age is startling, and she is the strongest character in a story populated with unforgettable characters. Stringfellow’s prose is evocative as she describes each scene in detail and steadily builds the many layers of this complex African American family’s history. A powerful family saga from a promising writer.
Stringfellow’s vibrant debut celebrates the resilience of women over multiple generations in a Black Memphis family, as well as the city that is central to their lives ... Stringfellow romanticizes Memphis...even as she lays bare its history of racism and violence. Just when this starts to feel sentimental, the author makes it achingly real