The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, by Ayana Mathis
Mathis takes a unique approach towards understanding one woman through the diverse life experiences of her twelve children. More like a collection of short stories than a novel per se, each chapter spans a period of one child’s life. Some are intimately intertwined with Hattie, their mother, and some mention her only briefly. Throughout, Mathis meditates on survival, race relations, love, and motherhood during the Great Migration in 1900’s America.
The author knows how to go for the gut. Since the novel is so character-driven, with each character’s flaws and inner conflicts laid lyrically bare, the novel thrums with emotion. Especially poignant vignettes focus on a tormented young man who wonders if his remarkable preaching abilities are a gift or a curse, a mother gone mad, and a sailor who wishes he were a good person, but is too weak to behave righteously.
I wished, though, for more continuity and a true plot arc. After each chapter, I wanted to hear more about that person’s life and story. Perhaps if Mathis had framed her novel with a bookend structure, pairing each chapter with a corresponding one later on, or if she had interwoven her characters’ lives, I would have felt more coherence. Instead, I moved on to the next half-tale, and the next.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.