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IN What We’re Reading: ‘One Good Mama Bone’

book cover

Reviewed by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER // May/June 2017


When Sarah Creamer looked at her son, Emerson Bridge, she loved his dimples most. His biological mother had them, too, but Mattie hadn’t stuck around long enough to see her baby’s smile. Mattie couldn’t live with having had a fling with Sarah’s husband and all, so she shot herself just after giving birth, leaving Sarah with the newborn.
For his part, Harold was happy to have a son, but he was gone now, too.
In the end, it was just Sarah and the boy, who she loved. Not having had much of a mama herself, though, she wondered if she was doing right by him.
She gave Emerson everything he needed. She did without to make sure he was fed.
She marched over to Mr. Dobbins’ ranch and bought her son a calf so he would have a buddy. She wished she could do more.
Luther Dobbins hadn’t wanted to sell the steer to that Creamer woman. He did, because he wanted to see admiration in his youngest son’s eyes. Luther loved LC, but the boy was nothing like his brother, Charles, a college man who made Luther proud.
LC was weak; nothing disgusted Luther more. He wanted his son to be a man. He wanted LC to love him like he did when he was little.
Sarah was glad to see Emerson happy again. Emerson loved his steer, which he named Lucky, and they were lucky that Mr. Dobbins gave them the mama cow, too. The kind of devotion animals had, well, Sarah had never seen such a thing. Besides, the mama cow was a good listener, which is what Sarah needed most.
The first thing you may notice about “One Good Mama Bone” is that the prose is beautiful, very much so, and that takes some getting used to.
You won’t be sorry for it.
Setting her novel in poverty-deep rural South Carolina in the early 1950s, author Bren McClain brings forth a story that aches and pulses, starting with Sarah, who becomes the mama she never had and is wrapped with worry about not having a map for raising a boy who’s not hers.
This grasping hopefulness and the things she does for Emerson are so appealing that Sarah might’ve made a good solitary subject for a novel. Happily, McClain gives us more, in the form of a whole cast of wonderful characters.
Even the loathsome Luther belongs solidly inside this perfect novel of love, parenting, and doing the right thing. And here’s another something right: reading “One Good Mama Bone.” That’s what you should be doing.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin.

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