Once in a while, a novel comes along that is just extraordinary, in the best sense of that word. Bren McClain's One Good Mama Bone
(Story River Books
, 2017) falls into this category. In little more than 250 pages, McClain
brings to life in spare but lyrical prose an unforgettable cast of characters struggling with poverty, family, and reputation against the backdrop of the early 1950s rural US South. Perhaps her most remarkable creation is Mama Red, a cow near the end of her useful life whose dedication to her calf becomes a symbol of mother love.
In the summer of 1944, Sarah Creamer helps her best friend deliver a child fathered by Sarah's own husband. Out of fear and shame, her best friend kills herself shortly after the birth, leaving Sarah and her husband to raise the boy, whom they name Emerson Bridge. Over the next seven years Sarah's husband drinks himself to death, at which point Sarah inherits a farm mortgaged to the hilt and a child she can't afford to feed and fears that she doesn't know how to love. Her sole talent is dressmaking, but times are tough throughout rural South Carolina and the bills continue to mount. When she comes across a newspaper article celebrating a local boy who earned $680 for his champion steer, she purchases a calf on credit from a local farmer and enters Emerson Bridge in the next years championship.
But the calf belongs to Mama Red, who breaks out of her corral and follows her baby to Sarah's farm. Watching cow and calf activates the mama bone that Sarah's own mother insisted Sarah did not have. Only then do she and Emerson Bridge discover what happens to the cattle when the championship ends. Love and respect clash with need, and Sarah and Emerson Bridge must decide whether the costs of success are too high.
C. P. Lesley is the author of six novels, including
Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, and The Swan Princess), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.