640 Acres and Dirt Poor
by Janet Godwin Meyer

"…I am a lonesome man who somehow accumulated six hundred and forty acres of land, and when I was working toward that end, I enjoyed life’s sacrifices and embraced them with the hope of a better tomorrow…"

At the start of Meyer's lengthy memoir, sixty-seven-year-old Hugh Godwin mourns the death of his wife, Mattie, and their son, Right Handy. Their deaths are a result of a typhoid epidemic and devastate their family. From here, Meyer's book scrupulously regales the intricate history of the neighboring Godwin and Owens families, traversing across time and generations. Before his death, Hugh begins to share his family history with his young son, Shug. But as Shug ages, he shies away from his father’s rural farming ways and instead turns to a life of moonshine and eventually to the logging business with his good friend, John Owens. Later, Shug marries John’s daughter, Vesta, and their family of five children includes Meyer. Following the author's personal history in the last third of the book, she recounts her life growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, learning about her family and difficult truths about society. By high school graduation, she is more than ready to face the world.

Split between the three voices of Hugh, Shug, and Meyer, this book is painstakingly pieced together with research and personal diary entries as Meyer crafts a family saga that at times reads like historical fiction. Stretching from the 1800s to 1960s, there are some familiar cultural situations and events that are touched upon within the book. Yet, as Meyer delves into the personal lives of each of these families and her own—painting a picture of life along the Alabama-Georgia line—one is easily lost within the myriad details (which in itself is no small feat on Meyer's part) as narrations blend into one another with no distinction of voice or breaks in between. Despite this, Meyer gives readers a glimpse into a life not everyone is privy to while honoring her family’s legacy for generations to come.

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