Title: South of Superior
Author: Ellen Airgood
Published: May 2011
Published By: Riverhead Books
Format Read: Trade Paperback
Date Read: April 10 2015
After losing the woman who raised her to cancer, Madeline receives a letter of condolence in the mail from Gladys the girlfriend of her deceased maternal grandfather. In the letter she asks for Madeline’s help taking care of her aged and ailing sister Arbutus. This would mean a move back to the town of her birth: McAllaster Michigan on Lake Superior’s Upper Peninsula. Deeply affected by the abandonment of first her mother then her grandfather as a young child, Madeline is curious to understand why they made the decisions they did and to learn more about her family. She agrees to take on the job of Arbutus’s caregiver and moves to the small town to live with the two sisters. McAllastar is a very poor and bleak town with little to offer its few inhabitants. In fact this fictional town is so poor that the Great Depression didn’t bring on much of a shock to the way of life there. To give a better idea of its imagined location, its nearest city would be Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. This debut novel by Ellen Airgood examines life in small towns and how they are affected by the modern ideals of outsiders who move to the area. But most importantly South of Superior is about a woman who is trying to find a life and purpose for herself while reliving the pain of her past.
I came across this book a couple of years ago at a library book sale and I admit it was the covers plaid detail and inviting picture that caught my eye. The synopsis sounded interesting enough so I picked it up. When it came to the top of my to-read pile I had forgotten what South of Superior was about, but instead of rereading the synopsis I decided to only read the review quotes that was included by other authors. I began reading this book expecting a heartfelt read that would be memorable and captivating.
Fast forward to today, several days after I finished reading South of Superior and I’m scratching my head trying to think of something to say about it. Thankfully I kept some quick jot notes as I read. Although I don’t think that it was written badly, it certainly didn’t meet the expectations I had as a result of the quotes on the front and back cover. I felt sad for Madeline, considering the abandonment she dealt with as a young child, but I wasn’t able to relate to her very much. As for the other characters, they were ok. I was interested to read and learn the family secrets unfold, but they didn’t really deliver an impact that left me emotionally attached.
Ellen Airgood’s strength is clearly in her descriptions. Some of which were so vivid I could see the town clearly in my mind. And due to McAllastar’s poverty and location it physically made me feel damp and cold, but not in a haunting way. The pace of the story moved along at an even keel throughout telling its history a bit at a time.
Although I think the author is a talented writer, Madeline’s story just didn’t grip me like I had hoped so I have no plans to read South of Superior again.