Title: The Undertaker’s Daughter
Author: Kate Mayfield
No. of Pages: 368
Origins: Gallery Books
Release Date: 13 January 2015
Bottom Line: Interesting but underwhelming
“After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.
Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets—except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.
In The Undertaker’s Daughter, Kate has written a triumph of a memoir. This vivid and stranger-than-fiction true story ultimately teaches us how living in a house of death can prepare one for life.”
Thoughts: The Undertaker’s Daughter is not a typical memoir. Ms. Mayfield does not experience many true tragedies in her life, nor is her childhood filled with hardships. Her father may be an alcoholic and a philanderer, but he loves his family and takes care of them.Her mother is fiercely loyal to her husband and children as well. They do not want for anything. She has more opportunities than most children in the town, and while she does not expressly admit it, she knows she is lucky for those opportunities and the comfort and love which comprise her childhood.
Because of this surprisingly happy childhood, one wonders why Ms. Mayfield chose to write about her childhood. Sure, living one floor above a funeral home gives one a different perspective on life. However, one could make the argument that this directly and positively influences her value system and makes her more accepting of differences, particularly skin color, than anything else in her little Southern town. Much of her teen drama is her own fault, caused by her own choices and fueled by the age-old desire of teens to differentiate themselves from their parents. Yes, her relationship with her older sister is upsetting and bothersome, but that may be the most traumatic part of her childhood. For the most part, The Undertaker’s Daughter shows someone with a safe and happy childhood growing up and expanding her horizons by leaving her small town for the bigger world, one for which she is much better suited.
While there is no doubt that Ms. Mayfield had an interesting childhood, her memoir is something of a letdown for anyone who ever saw an episode of Six Feet Under. There are no real profound observations either about death, dying, or grieving. There is no major tragedy for her to overcome. She wants for nothing throughout her childhood. She rebels as millions of teens have rebelled before and after her and then grows up and leaves to make her own way in the world. While it is interesting, there is just not much depth to The Undertaker’s Daughter to make a lasting impression.