‘Change; not even the quarter, nickel, or dime type was appreciated in our house.’ Virginia author Mary Morony is a Southern humanist who steps onto the literary stage with an exceptionally elegant and deeply meaningful debut novel, APRON STRINGS. She lived in the South during the times about which she writes, waited until later in life to embrace her higher education by earning an degree in English form the University of Virginia, and then turned her personal history into an examination of that critical period in our history when the Civil Rights movement finally brought an end to the segregation in the South. She has experienced much but this is not a reflective memoir. This book is a richly sculpted story about the meaning of family – wherever and however that core is found – and the influence of the Southern experience on how we relate to each other in toto as human beings, wholly equal.
The story takes place in 1957, a very important aspect of the novel. Sallee Mack and her three sisters (Stuart, Helen and Gordy) live in a house divided – a father who has changed his career as a lawyer to that of a shopping mall entrepreneur, an alcoholic and severely abusive mother Ginny and a loving caring black maid Ethel. As though in keeping with Southern Gothic novels form Morony introduces secrets, mysterious links, crucial family disintegration aspects, but rather than summarizing the grand story she tells (it is far preferable to read this multifocal novel on your own for the impact it carries about racism, bigotry, and the inherent beauty of bonds between children and their Gilead found in Ethel), the aspects of Morony’s writing debut deserve evaluation.
Many authors have addressed this Southern flavored history of the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, but few have offered it with the extraordinary dignity of writing style that Mary Morony demonstrates. When other writers attempt to write conversations in the black speaking manner of the period the tendency is to fall into `Uncle Remus’ style of Joel Chandlers stories written in 1881. Morony avoids that completely and instead reconstructs the flavor of black discourse with an eloquence that is musical and additive rather than distractingly insulting to the reader’s eyes. Morony actually sings this entire novel – so beautiful are her metaphors, painting of scenes, lighting her stage where her drama takes place, and most of all, finding that exquisite beauty of speaking as a child in a child’s voice cultured with simplicity, insight, relation of needs, and that thin line of connecting a child’s mind with that of adult response – both dodging abuse and embracing love.
This is a debut novel, and rarely has a debut been so impressive. Mary Morony is an artist of significance. It will be fascinating to observe her output as it most surely will grow.
Having read the first book in the series – Apron Strings – I was thrilled to see this one released. I absolutely love the way Mary Morony writes. She brings her setting and characters to life and creates an ambience with her words that makes me feel a part of the story. Like the first book, this one is beautifully written and full of insight into the period along with observations on the social issues at that time.
If I could award higher than 5 stars I surely would!!
In this second installment of a historical fiction trilogy, a couple’s divorce results in repercussions for all the members of the Mackey family in 1963 Virginia.
Twelve-year-old Sallee Mackey is coping well since her parents Joe and Ginny split up, in part because she’s fond of her dad’s new friend, Linda. But little sister Helen’s too nervous to even discuss their father’s place while at home with Ginny, and older brother Gordy has turned into a perpetually angry teen. Stuart, however, the oldest of the three girls, initially living with Joe, is ready to leave Charlottesville behind for a New York City college, particularly when she thinks Joe’s getting married—not to Linda, but to Rosemary. Ginny’s drinking, meanwhile, is getting out of hand, and she earns Sallee’s wrath after she insults Linda, prompting the girl to try some profanity (really just one word, but the worst one), courtesy of her older sister. When Sallee’s hospitalized with a serious illness, Ginny works at controlling her alcoholism, but problems for the Mackeys unfortunately continue. Gordy, not keen to the possibility of moving to another home, runs away, and Joe, in New York to check on Stuart’s academic probation, discovers something much worse going on with his daughter. Joe eventually realizes he’s still in love with Ginny, but she may not so willingly take him back. As in Morony’s (Apron Strings, 2014) previous novel, maid Ethel is the family’s glue. The kids sometimes seem more worried about hurting her than their mom, while endearing Ethel readily provides love and endless hugs. Even her husband, Early, contributes, making an attempt to set Gordy straight. Delving into Joe and Ginny’s troubled lives eases the story’s tension, especially because they’re largely at fault for the Mackeys’ turmoil. Joe’s father, for one, was a heroin addict, and Ginny learns an unsettling fact about her background that she may want to keep secret. Morony adeptly handles the various perspectives, making it difficult to specify a protagonist, and the title, though playful, can apply to more than one character. The author likewise teases events from her earlier tale without echoing said narrative, which will surely appeal both to series newbies and returnees.
A profound family melodrama that’s surprisingly upbeat, thanks to the always reliable maid.
Whether you are staying out of the heat or diving into the water I have a great must read recommendation for you this summer. Apron Strings by local author Mary Morony hits every note perfectly. A coming of age story which is set in our own backyard, this novel will propel you down memory lane if you grew up in this area. Even if you are not from Charlottesville, the Southern flavor is sure to make you feel at home. Morony does an amazing job recreating 1950’s Virginia. Not only does she bring this era back to life, but her characters are rich and memorable. Each voice is authentic and clear…resonating with emotion and texture. These voices drive the story and compel you to turn each page. From the description of the smelly Uncle whose picks the children up in his car, to the first glimpse Ethel has of Big Early, each scene is painted perfectly.
Seven year old Sallee Mackey shares the narration with Ethel, a black maid who takes care of Sallee and her siblings. Ethel sees the world around her through different eyes and gives a glimpse of the world Salle can’t see yet…and may never see because of the color of her skin. Ethel is a complex character who struggles with her own demons that constantly threaten to drag her under but her love for the family she works for is clear.
This is a wonderful example of a book that you can get lost in. I loved the language and nuances of each character…and the ending came all too soon for me. There is so much turmoil and love filling these pages as Salle struggles to understand her family. Divorce looms and tempers flare in the summer heat and there is sadness and sweetness here that I think will truly touch you. It isn’t an easy happy ending but a bittersweet acceptance of flaws and disappointments that bring this book to a close. The prejudice that could rear its ugly head in the 1950’s, often does…whether it is in the form of the nasty neighbors or closer to home. What I found especially compelling was the fact that most of the characters were faceted and for every flaw you saw…there were other aspects that made them sympathetic. There is a lovely balance here of kindness and crookedness that life often throws at you.
I am thrilled to recommend another local artist to you that I think will charm you with her writing so make sure you check out Apron Strings this summer. By Suzanne Nash
Author Mary Morony does a terrific job of depicting life in the 1950’s south in this compelling novel of growing up in the segregated society of central Virginia. I literally couldn’t put it down as I was swept into her descriptions of the conflicts and confusion that racism and apartheid inflicted on those (both black and white) who grew up in that era. Highly recommended.
Complex and multi-layered, “Apron Strings” is a deftly written and compelling read from beginning to end. Author Mary Morony is able to showcase fully developed characters and a superbly crafted story that will linger in the mind long after the novel is finished and set back upon the shelf. “Apron Strings” is highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library general fiction collections.
Thoughtful and deeply moving, Apron Strings is the debut novel from author Mary Morony. A tale told through the eyes of Sallee and the answers she solicits from Ethel, Morony delivers a masterful narrative that is both beguiling and flawlessly executed. With a meticulous ear for dialogue Morony’s diction is simply exquisite, effortlessly capturing the cultural identities of her leading characters in flowing prose. It’s an absolute joy to read and without the contrivance of undue complexity quickly draws readers to its thematic undertones. There is real depth to be found here and because it is narrated from a child’s perspective allows a gradual evolution of thought with readers readily relating to the turmoil of Sallee’s rapidly changing life. Evocative and tender, Morony leans towards an intuitive interpretation of right and wrong and it would be a hard heart that didn’t find the morality in her tale.
For readers who appreciate finer literature Apron Strings is an elegantly wrapped gift that delights. Boding well for future releases from Mary Morony, it is recommended without reservation!
I know that you were portraying the very real love between a black housekeeper and her white family. But you were also portraying the everyday tragedy of human beings coping with their personal limitations and the prejudices (not just racial) of the people around them. We are prisoners of ourselves. But there is hope. And Ethel provides us hope in the end by being inspired and taking responsibility in her love for the family she has nurtured to overcome her alcoholism.
I can only guess that some people were bored, because you were presenting everyday life situations, not extraordinary ones. It is their loss.
Magical descriptive writing underpins this entire novel. Rich and discerning they create such a powerful visual image that it is hard not to empathise with the characters or find one’s self swept away to a different era. Best described as a snapshot of extraordinary lives, what makes this very special is the ability of the author Mary Morony to get beneath the veneer of everyday life and explore the underlying dynamics in a time when different cultural norms prevailed.
An excellent read, entertaining, lots of bits that made me smile – the misunderstandings of Sallee and her siblings about the things they hear – and a few heartrending moments too. The characters were well drawn, no over romanticised portrayals of the coloured servants, but I liked how the children were so loyal to Ethel despite her problems. Don’t read expecting ‘happy ever afters’, it leaves you hanging a bit at the end with some loose ends – so much so that I had a look to see if there was a sequel (sadly not yet anyway).
Wonderfully put together all the drama so relatable either got me rejoicing or dubiously confused or emotionally draining. Each character built themselves up and to follow them, ‘exciting.’ Crazy but true I could feel Sallee’s troubles and her emotional dilemmas; however Ethel, her character played an important part here for this family. Don’t you think in your life that one person who will just listen to you and not judge your every move? I followed Ethel’s back story and I got all tender hearted, like I said before emotionally drained. It’s true, enduring strength is the main focus here, either you dust yourself off and move on or let life’s misery swallow you whole.The author wrote this tale with so much vigor and warmth that it will consume you. Did it capture my imagination, yes I was able to play the entire book in my head and I was left satisfied and smiling. I like this part in the book, “The family has been rent asunder; that has effects on all of the members, and everyone reacts differently to these major life events.” Something to think about? Well this author written a story to make you think a lot. Thank you! Wonderful read indeed, thank you,
Realistic Yet Uplifting Story
Mary Morony has done a wonderful job of describing central Virginia life in the 1950s and 1960s. Her characters are vivid and realistic. She describes them as individuals rather than as members of any certain group of people. She sympathetically shows them with their tender hearts as well as their human foibles. She describes honest interaction between blacks and whites devoid of today’s political correctness which poisons the dialogue.
Although Ethel is the maid she is far more than that. She is the loving disciplinarian of her employer’s children. She takes pride in teaching them manners in the way she thinks her employer would want them taught. Her employer, Virginia, trusts her with them in her absence as she would trust a family member. She does not judge her on the color of her skin but by the love Ethel shows Virginia’s children.
Morony describes the good and bad of the adults in her story. It has a ring of truth. In spite of family discord, tragedies, financial reversal, alcohol abuse, and ultimately family breakup, the Mackey children retain their family bonds.
Wonderfully put together all the drama so relatable either got me rejoicing or dubiously confused or emotionally draining. Each character built themselves up and to follow them, ‘exciting.’ Crazy but true I could feel Sallee’s troubles and her emotional dilemmas; however Ethel, her character played an important part here for this family. Don’t you think in your life that one person who will just listen to you and not judge your every move? I followed Ethel’s back story and I got all tender hearted, like I said before emotionally drained. It’s true, enduring strength is the main focus here, either you dust yourself off and move on or let life’s misery swallow you whole. The author wrote this tale with so much vigor and warmth that it will consume you. Did it capture my imagination, yes I was able to play the entire book in my head and I was left satisfied and smiling. I like this part in the book, “The family has been rent asunder; that has effects on all of the members, and everyone reacts differently to these major life events.” Something to think about? Well this author written a story to make you think alot.
Wonderful read indeed, thank you, Darlene Cruz
… What I like best about the story, however, is the sense of place and time that ever so subtly seems to be catalyst, if not cause, of the decline of Joe, Ginny, and their marriage. And of course, you know that I remember how palpable race was every day in every way in the pre-Lyndon Johnson South of my childhood and adolescence. It really is wonderful how different your portrayal of black-white relations is from any other book I’ve read.
Apron Strings is a brilliantly written book by Mary Morony that is a must-read for everyone. This beautiful piece follows the lives of two people whose lives intertwine in rural Virginia in the 1950’s. We meet Ethel, an African-American woman in the 1930’s who makes a living doing domestic work and young, Caucasian Sallee in the 1950’s. And although their stories are told from separate view points, their lives intersect at some very significant points.
We meet Ethel as a teenager working as a domestic for Sallee’s grandparents. Although she takes different jobs throughout the years we share with her, she is brought back full-circle to work again as a domestic for the same family when Sallee’s parents, Ginny (the granddaughter of her initial employer) and Joe Mackey, get married and begin a family.
What eventually becomes a family of four young ones, Ethel is everything to the Mackey children. She feeds them, clothes them, mothers them, loves them, and through all that seems to put her own life and happiness on hold. As aforementioned, there is a 30 year gap between the telling of the two stories, yet we also see where they run parallel to one another – which I felt were the most significant moments. The tale of these two individuals keep me glued to the pages, unsure where I was going to go aside from possibly dealing with the friction (to put it mildly) that most African-Americans dealt with during such times. But the story was so much more than that because it put aside the obvious things that make us different and addressed the part of each of our lives that make us human – love, hate, family, loneliness, and loss and hardship to name a few. Although the character of Sallee was definitely well-developed, I felt that Ethel was an extraordinary character to watch throughout the book. Apron Strings shows us how one woman gave up much of her own life for the lives of another woman’s children. The sacrifices she made and the toll they took on her is not lost on the reader for even a moment. I think Ethel’s mother, Bertha, summed up her daughter’s plight quite well when she told Ethel, “A child’s love is good for the soul, honey, and you’s got a soul thas’ a hurtin’ an’ needs that love.”
Apron Strings is brilliantly written and deserves more praise than I’m capable of through this keyboard. Ms. Morony’s work is why I do what I do. To find a book so worthy of being in the spotlight is rare. I hope she will continue to write. I would definitely read another of her works without even a second thought
Great read! This book has so much heart. Sallee’s adventures and witty commentary keep you entertained and the pages turning but it’s the honest portrayal of human sentiment that makes this book so great. I laughed, I cried, I went through the gamut of emotions from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I would highly recommend to any and everyone!
What a wonderful installment of this charming story! So often the story lulls in the middle of trilogies, NOT SO HERE as Morony does a fantastic job of keeping the plot moving and the reader connected and engaged with the characters, it’s hard for your fingers to keep up turning the pages. I can’t wait to see where life takes The Mackeys next! Highly recommend!!
Wonderful, Captivating, applauds to Mary Moroney!!
Wonderful prose clearly depicting the place and times. The character development was done so well, you wanted to reach out and hug the children, as well as shake some sense into the mother!!
A white Virginian family in the late 1950s struggles to stay together while enduring a failing marriage and racist neighbors in Morony’s debut historical drama. For the Mackey family, 1957 changed everything, at least according to 7-year-old Sallee. Morony writes in a candid voice, refusing to sugarcoat the overt racism and making it clear that a small family in Virginia won’t change the bullheaded beliefs of others. Readers will be glad that they’ve stuck around for the bittersweet ending. APRON STRINGS maintains a remarkable degree of refinement and Southern charm.
Terrific read! I’m so attached to the characters.
Morony paints such a vivid picture of the Mackey family, you could almost smell Ginny’s perfume, taste the gin in Ethel’s tin cup or play Barbie with Sallee and Helen. Apron Strings was sweet and compelling, but also disturbing and tragic. I’m dying to read more about Sallee and Ethel. Hurry up and write Mary Morony!
. . .First, your time lapses were very good—well-placed, enabling the reader to fill in what might have been difficult personality development. You didn’t merely tell, you showed. I particularly found it helpful to know the child rearing, or lack thereof, styles of the domestic help versus the parents of Ginny. It was logical that Ginny turned out the way she did with no brake from her parents.
The device you used as a mechanism of signaling change to society at large – the shopping center was extremely well-chosen. If anything changed America more than the shopping centers located outside the city center, I don’t know what it was. It may have killed most downtowns, but it was an economic boom to a consumer-driven economy. Apron Strings’ shopping center foreshadows this dislocation wonderfully.
The race relations situation was interesting in the fact that I never heard the word, “nigger” until I was seven or eight – and it was innocent, not malignant (although how can such an ugly word be anything other than corrupting. Having never encountered the police or many other adults, I was not exposed to the mores of peoples’ use, and therefore their attitudes towards blacks. … I think we could agree that “nigger” was not a word used by polite folk, probably only by the threatened, those with the most to use – jobs or position. And it’s difficult to argue with perceptions – such as the “color bar” ; the relationship between Ethel, Ben and Carrie is very, very well conveyed. It shows the complexity of intra-racial relations, normally, lighter-skinned blacks, especially in areas that had a substantial populations of free blacks, even to this day, could taunt their darker brethren with “My granddaddy used to own your granddaddy.” You introduced another level of complexity – educational attainment. Perhaps more foreshadowing of the future in which middle class and professional blacks would leave either the country or the inner-city in order to “fit” into a prosperity-ridden suburbia.
The dysfunction that corroded the Mackey’s lives was one to which most adult children of alcoholics or substance abusers could relate. I can only imagine that having lived through the “research”, it must have been difficult to write about; however having attempted my own “bio-fic” story, I do know that the telling is not unlike a gusher once it starts to flow. How Ethel was first led into drinking was classic; you styled this well. When Early was self-rehabbing, the whole scene was depicted brilliantly by your use of senses, especially that of smell. When Ginny started to move from mood adjustment hour to memory eradication night, the reader, if at all experienced with a mother’s alcoholism, had to have sympathized with the children. Finally, when the emotional and physical manifestations of the disease began to be shown by loss of temper, slapping and crawling upstairs, the reader has to wonder, “How did these children get by?” You captured the emotions of a young girl, abandoned in a money-challenged and bourbon/gin soaked domicile marvelously.
You also showed how siblings can be practically the only support on has in an environment of divorce and alcoholism. Although Gordy’s encounter with the vile Mr. Dabney was very brave, you didn’t make anybody an out-and-out hero. This preserves the honesty and realism of the book about small children left to fend for themselves, hard enough to get by in normal circumstances, practically impossible to when slogging through the nose-high sewer of a narcissistic, drunken parent’s … spew. You resisted the heroine portrayal which would have rendered the book superficial, Mister Joe wasn’t exemplary, nor was Ethel, nor was Stuart; they were the most difficult of characters to write about, normal, everyday, and quotidian (but not dull) – this makes your work better…
Virginia author Mary Marony is a Southern humanist who stepped onto the literary stage with an exceptionally elegant and deeply meaningful debut novel, APRON STRINGS. She lived in the South during the times about which she writes, waited until later in life to embrace her higher education by earning an degree in English form the University of Virginia, and then turned her personal history into an examination of that critical period in our history when the Civil Rights movement finally brought an end to the segregation in the South. She has experienced much but this is not a reflective memoir. Her book is a richly sculpted story about the meaning of family – wherever and however that core is found – and the influence of the Southern experience on how we relate to each other in toto as human beings, wholly equal.
And now Mary continues her epic story with Volume 2 of her Apron Strings Trilogy with an even finer and more polished novel DONE GROWED UP. The story picks up where Volume 1 left off and is best condensed on the provided synopsis: ‘When we last left the Mackey Family in the late 1950s, their lives were in turmoil. Divorce, alcoholism, racism, death, puberty – what WEREN’T they dealing with? Ethel, a black maid in a racist world – the true heart and soul of the Mackey Family, is the children’s only constant as she fights her own numerous demons. Twelve-year-old Sallee struggles to understand the world with little enlightenment from the adults around her. Her older sister Stuart, a college student New York City, finally escaped the South and drama of her family only to succumb to the terrible temptations of urban life; Gordon, a 14 year old boy feeling anger and hatred as he begins to slowly realize the harsh reality of the people and world around him; while Ginny, newly divorced mother of four, finds that she’s not the spoiled princess she once was. She is overwhelmed with responsibility, feelings of abandonment, and alcoholism. Joe, Ginny’s ex, and the children’s father, revels in new-found wealth and popularity with women, yet yearns for family and simpler times.’
There could not be a more propitious time to bring this story to the public’s attention as racism is still front and center, but he manner in which Mary addresses history is personal and that makes it even more poignant.
Mary Morony is an author of epic proportions. She feels like a secret I want to expose to the world. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing her on my Radio Show, FrankieSense & More, and as someone who interviews a LOT of authors weekly, I must say, Mary really stood out. She writes dialogue that is sumptuous and soothing. The kind of book you can’t put down and wished didn’t end.
Frankie Picasso – Author of Midlife Mojo: How to Get Through the Midlife Crisis and Emerge as Your True Self
Apron Strings simply transports it readers to another place and time. The writing is insightful and beautiful, leading me to quickly empathise with the characters. All of whom are vividly created and have intriguing backstories. As you would expect with a book in this genre there is much reflection and it’s best read on a day where you can close out the world around you and just let the words take you away.
The Perfect Read!
Mary Morony’s superbly written, Apron Strings, brought back lost memories of Virginia’s late 50’s/early 60’s…Especially rich is the storyline between seven year old Sallee and Ethel, the family’s maid…So well written, I could actually “hear” their dialogue and I thanked the heavens for the safe haven Ethel tried to provide Sallee from the all too many dysfunctional adults…I smiled and laughed, frowned and cried…The perfect read….As Ina Garten would say, “who wouldn’t like that!?!”
If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird and The Help, you’ll love Apron Strings. It’s the quintessential story of life in the south, where racism and Southern charm coexist. It’s narrated by 7-year-old Sallee, who looks to Ethel, the family’s black maid as her surrogate mother. Mary Morony’s rich characters, twisting plot and beautiful writing show that love has no color.