Cover image for In the family way
In the family way
Hays, Tommy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
207 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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"Two weeks after my brother Mitchell was killed, my mother finally emerged from her bedroom, hair uncombed, eyes puffy and wide. She said nothing to us, who watched her cross the floor to the bathroom, where she emptied the medicine cabinet. She stepped into the living room holding a waste can full of medicine bottles and announced that she had become a Christian Scientist. . . . I didn't know what Christian Science was, but I could see it had enabled my mother to walk from her bedroom and speak to us, and I was grateful for that."
In early 1960s South Carolina, Jeru Lamb is ten years old and trying to come to terms with his brother's death.    He's also trying to understand his mother's conversion to Christian Science, his father's literary ambitions (and       recent calling as "a Waffle House mystic"), the racial landscape of the segregated South, and a new classmate from the wrong side of town who claims to be his half-sister. "It was not lost on me that by expecting the worst every breathing moment, I backed into prophecy once in a while," says Jeru, and when his mother finds herself "in the family way"--against her doctor's orders--Jeru is left to wonder just what he might lose next.

Tommy Hays's first novel, Sam's Crossing , won accolades from critics nationwide. The New York Times Book Review called it "touching and funny--and revealing of the intricate workings of the human heart." The San Francisco Chronicle said it was "witty and engaging . . . [a novel that] explores the risks and rewards--vulnerability, compromise, intimacy and strength--of love." In the Family Way shows the maturation of this talented writer as he depicts, with heartbreaking simplicity, the end of things we love and the extraordinary capacity to begin again. And in Jeru Lamb he has created an engaging young narrator who takes us to the center of his world and its generous secrets.

Author Notes

Tommy Hays grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and was educated at Furman University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. His first novel was Sam's Crossing. Hays teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts. He lives in Asheville with his wife and two children.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A small South Carolina town during the early 1960s is the backdrop for this touching story of ten-year-old Jeru Lamb and his family's struggle to cope with the death of Jeru's younger brother. Hit hardest by the death, Jeru's Southern Baptist mother emerges from a two-week-long confinement announcing that she has become a Christian Scientist, and Jeru's father deals with his pain by spending less and less time with the family to write a novel he has been working on for more than a year. In the meantime, while sorting out his feelings about his brother's death and the part he may have played in it, Jeru tries to understand the racial division within his town, to keep the secret that he has a half-sister, and to face the possibility of further loss when he learns his mother has become pregnant against doctors' orders. With a slow and deliberate pace, Hays captures the essence of small-town living and beautifully recalls a time of innocence lost without succumbing to sentimentality. Carolyn Kubisz

Publisher's Weekly Review

A snapshot of a Southern boy's coming-of-age in 1960s South Carolina, Hays's second novel cleverly uses the turbulence of the decade to contextualize one family's problems but never lets the drama of the era overwhelm his story. Ten-year-old, overweight Jeru Lamb is confused and guilt-ridden over his eight-year-old brother Mitchell's recent death. Mitchell was attacked and killed by a dog belonging to a neighbor, a black man, and for Jeru, the difficult work of parsing out changing race relations begins. Other things are changing, too: his mother has converted to Christian Science and is expecting another child against the advice of doctors ("`Death,' she becomes fond of repeating, `is the ultimate illusion'"); his father quits his copywriting job to write the novel he types furiously in the basement; his best friend's parents are getting divorced; and one afternoon, the smartest girl in his class, skinny and poor Norma Jones, suddenly slips him a note that reads, "I am your half-sister." It's quite a world for one boy to navigate, where the metamorphoses of his family bring as many dramatic joys as traumas. Jeru desperately misses his dead brother, but he warms to his family's new dimensions; besides Norma, a new baby sister is born. Jeru's ingenuousness and wry humor are particularly endearing; Hays (Sam's Crossing) avoids succumbing to the temptation to imbue his narrator with an older-than-his-years sensibility. Jeru's actions are frequently impulsive, na‹ve, and occasionally insensitive ("Uncle Clem says some Negroes are just no 'count," he blurts out to the family's black housekeeper as they pass a homeless man). The welcome result is a believable young hero grappling with family life in a new way. This richly textured story triumphs with its multifaceted characters and genuinely affectionate sensitivity. Agent, Jennifer Hengen at Sterling Lord Literistic. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The protagonist of Hays's strong second novel (after Sam's Crossing) is a ten-year-old boy named Jeru Lamb, whose relatively idyllic life is suddenly shattered by tragedy: a neighbor's dog works free of its chain, attacks Jeru's younger brother, and kills him. This catastrophic event leads to complications. Jeru's mother becomes a Christian Scientist and then quickly becomes pregnant against her doctor's advice. Jeru's father quits his job at an ad agency, starts work on a book, and, as Jeru accidentally discovers, begins to look for a woman who had borne him a child many years ago. Jeru, who functions primarily as an observer in this quietly affecting novel set in South Carolina during the early 1960s, must deal with his own feelings of confusion, guilt, and grief as he patiently waits for his parents to right themselves. By the end of the novel, after an arduous healing process, they have. Recommended for libraries with large contemporary fiction collections.ÄPatrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



In the Family Way Two weeks after my brother Mitchell was killed, my mother finally emerged from her bedroom, hair uncombed, eyes puffy and wide. She said nothing to us, who watched her cross the floor to the bathroom, where she emptied the medicine cabinet. She stepped into the living room holding a waste can full of medicine bottles and announced that she had become a Christian Scientist. The year was 1962. I was nine and didn't know what Christian Science was. But I could see it had enabled my mother to walk from her bedroom and speak to us, and I was grateful for that. She had taken Mitchell's death harder than any of us. She had grown up in a family of early deaths. Her grandmother had died giving birth to her mother, Grace, who, in turn, had died giving birth to a stillborn daughter. Her father, Jeru, so grieved these losses that he died three years later, at the age of forty-one, of a heart attack. My mother and her brother Charlie then went to live with their great-aunt and great-uncle, Louise and Clem Marshbanks. Brother and sister, Louise and Clem became my mother's surrogate parents and, eventually, my surrogate grandparents. Mitchell was almost eight when he was killed, and I was the only witness. Death had made my family conspicuous. We buried Mitchell alongside my grandparents in Springwood, Greenville's downtown cemetery. My mother often visited his grave on her way home from the newspaper, where she worked. She said our grandparents and Mitchell didn't actually die, she claimed no one died. "Death," she was fond of repeating, "is the ultimate illusion." My father took solace in my mother's discovery of Christian Science. It justified his own religious preoccupations. Ever since his college days, he had read and studied books of the great Eastern religions, but after Mitchell was killed, he immersed himself in them with a new zeal. He resigned from his job at the advertising agency and began to write a novel. He kept strange hours. For him, church became a late-night diner where he discussed the Buddha over a cup of coffee with a road-weary trucker. Mitchell's death drove both my parents to religion: My mother, a Southern Baptist, turned Christian Scientist, and my father, a midwestern Presbyterian, became a Waffle House mystic. Mitchell's death put me off God. I didn't trust a deity who allowed what had happened to Mitchell in the Moores' field that afternoon. I placed my faith in the pioneers, inventors, and baseball players whose stories I devoured nightly. In my personal sect, the holy trinity was Daniel Boone, Lou Gehrig, and Thomas Alva Edison. Since Mitchell's death I had become obsessed with biographies and read under the covers with a flashlight late into the night, losing myself in the abridged lives of great men. The nights I couldn't read, when the words sat there on the page, being their secret selves, leading me nowhere, I relived the afternoon Mitchell and I had been playing along the creek bank, in the field next to Uncle Clem and Aunt Louise's house. I see the German shepherd, its broken chain trailing behind, tear across the creek from the direction of Colored Town. The dog charges through the high grass, not barking, not even growling. We run, but I am heavy and slow. I might be screaming. When Mitchell sees the German shepherd gain on me, he drops back, and I run past him. He holds out his opened hand to the dog. I hear him speak; the words seem to be whispered in my ear. "Here, boy. Come here, boy. It's all right." Mitchell has pulled off this trick before, and I have a second to believe it will work before the dog takes him down. Uncle Clem appears at the edge of the field with his .22. Two Negro boys splash through the creek, calling the dog. The rifle fires in the air, but the dog doesn't run. Uncle Clem beats it off Mitchell with the butt of the gun, then shoots it three times. My last memory of Mitchell is him standing there, hand out, palm up, offering himself as he always offered himself to everyone and everything. That is how Aunt Louise said I should remember him. Never mind that I had my back to him, that I was running and could not have seen it. She said I should hang on to that image and forget about afterward because that was no longer Mitchell. Excerpted from In the Family Way: A Novel by Tommy Hays All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.