Thank you so much fine artist/teacher and novelist Laura Azzi for your book review this week: Who Will Polish the Silver by Marie Land Avery of Raleigh, North Carolina. Laura also lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is extremely active in the Wonderland Book Club, a monthly gathering of the NC Writers’ Network Wake County members.
Marie Land Avery earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree from Emory University. She has been a teacher and a pharmaceutical executive. She has three children and two granddaughters and lives with her husband and two dogs in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Who Will Polish the Silver: A Southern Baby Boomer’s Remembrance by Marie Land Avery is a humorous and heartbreaking memoir of a Southern family’s adherence to lineage and how the family’s name and worth must rise above everything else. The book set in 1940s Statesville, North Carolina, begins with a lengthy but impressive Who’s Who of Marie’s (Missy’s) family tree. Historical depictions, referenced settings, and exclusive organizations proclaim Missy’s nobility, reminiscent of Civil War pride, and gave the reader an idea of how hard it was for Missy to maintain the high standard of etiquette in her family and within her community.
The story starts with Missy as a five year old remembering her cries of pain while being ignored by an uncle nearby. At a very young age, she is named the “keeper of the family silver,” an important tie to the family heritage because the silver is brought out and polished at all important family gatherings. In the chapter “Death by Tines,” Missy reflects how she polished the silver 6,720 times—imagine the monotony! In “The Family Jewels” chapter, Missy states that, “When making a new acquaintance in a polite social setting, the first thing a Southern lady checks is the ring finger.” Facial expressions, nods, and sniffs determine if that person is to be granted conversation or not.
As she grows older, Missy’s childhood of entitlement produces feelings of emptiness and a lack of love in adulthood. The lingering effects of poor self-image, conditional love, and family expectations forces Missy to make responsible choices for both herself and her family.
Thanks to Missy’s reflections about her family who values tradition, heritage and social status above all else, readers are able to experience Missy’s feelings of inadequacy and shame. Her memoir gives a balanced portrayal of her family while showing the reader how much she learned and is still learning from her past. The weight of her family’s pride shackled Missy’s individuality and self-esteem, but now the author is able to reconcile her Edwardian upbringing with a twenty-first century mindset of forgiveness and self-love.
I believe a strategic weaving of the author’s heritage throughout could have eliminated the twenty pages of her detailed family tree at the beginning of the book. I also found it difficult to remember all the nicknames and of what importance and relation they were to Missy. I found it irresponsible to not put translations of the French words she used—not everyone understands French and I felt by not understanding the language I wasn’t in the right “club.”
I liked the storytelling when the author described the quirkiness of some relatives like the table place setting for a dead college student as if he were a war hero. I also enjoyed the imagery of (heavy) legs making swishing noises as they rubbed against each other and the gossip at a beauty parlor. The vignettes of Missy’s interactions with friends and family were both enlightening and entertaining.
I find Mrs. Avery’s ability to write and to tell a vivid story quite remarkable. Throughout reading her memoir I hoped she would soon tackle a novel.