In FLORA, Gail Godwin has woven an unforgettable tapestry of a Southern family and their tragedies through the eyes of a preteen girl. Through the narrator, the now-adult Helen who is looking back at the summer she turned 11 years old, the author captures the essence of that age with feeling, empathy and innocence.
World War II is drawing to a close, and it’s summer in North Carolina with the Anstruther family --- father Harry, young daughter Helen, and paternal grandmother Nonie. The Anstruthers live together in an old family house on a mountaintop. At one time, the residence was a place for “Recoverers” --- patients returning to their ordinary lives after bouts with tuberculosis, inebriation or mental problems, and still needing time and a place to transition.
Helen’s grandfather was a physician when Nonie married him, and her father is a widower and a polio survivor who is left with some side effects. The Anstruthers know about transition as they are already a family who understand suffering.
"The novel is indeed beautifully written, but it is Gail Godwin’s understanding of human frailty that is the real hallmark of this tale. FLORA is a reading experience that this reviewer will never forget."
The story begins with the death of Nonie, who became Helen’s caregiver after her mother passed away when she was three. The almost-11-year-old Helen is convinced that if she had been at the store where Nonie’s heart gave out, she could have quickly found the nitroglycerin pills in Nonie’s purse, put them under her tongue, and her life would have been saved. Helen is distraught over the loss of the stable presence of her grandmother, whose ghost lingers in her mind.
Helen is a smart, imaginative child on the verge of moving into adolescence while enduring near-impossible tragedies in her life. Can her young sensibilities cope with all that has happened to her and all that has yet to happen? First her mother is gone, and now her grandmother. Her father still suffers from the effects of polio and drinks too much, but he is doing the best he can for his daughter. When Harry must go to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to spend the summer working on a secret project having to do with the war, he leaves Helen in the care of his wife&rs