Barbara Taylor’s, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, is one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read. It’s a novel set in a Scranton, Pennsylvania coal mining community in 1913. As a coal miner’s granddaughter, this story resonated with me. I gained insight into what my grandfather’s life must have been like. He died of lung cancer, the scourge of the mines, at age 52.
Like other coal mining towns, the coal industry took over Scranton’s culture back in the early 1900s: mining families lived in drafty company houses and were pushed to shop in company stores. There was a constant threat of accidents …when the whistle blew, everyone ran to the mines to see if their family members were lost in a cave-in. And if a father was killed in a mining accident, the oldest son, even if only eight years old, had to work in the mines, or the family would be homeless.
This is the backdrop of the Morgan family story. Mr. Morgan is a coal miner with ambitions of moving up to a supervisory position at the mines. At the beginning of the book, an accident leaves his nine-year-old daughter, Daisy, severely burned. The novel tells the story of how the family copes with grief after her death.
It’s an unforgettable account of loss: Daisy’s inconsolable mother falls into a crippling depression…almost to the point of no return. Her father descends into alcoholism. Eight-year-old Violet’s guilt threads through the novel. She’s the one who threw a celebratory sparkler into the air and caught her sister’s dress on fire. Neighbors and schoolmates whisper, “Murderer, killer.”
Violet’s spirits are lifted by the anticipation of Billy Sunday’s visit to town. Sunday, a famous pro baseball player and evangelist, begins his talks by running onto the stage, swinging a ball bat and declaring, “I’m here to make a home run for God.” His lively tent revivals offer a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the time and underscore the prevalence of faith and religion. In fact, familiar lines from old church hymns are woven throughout the novel. I often found myself singing along!
The book brings in other memorable characters: Violet’s best friend, Stanley, who is drafted into the mines at age nine and missionary Adelaide, whose self-righteousness and gossipy nature is a stark contrast to the more sympathetic Morgan family.
I highly recommend this book. It gives a poignant look at what life might have been like for my coal-miner grandfather and shows how much daily life has changed over the last 100 years. And though the plot may sound bleak, ultimately it’s a story of hope and survival that will stay with the reader long after the book is done.
- Cheryl Bazzoui lives in Bradford. She's a writer who goes by the pen name Ann McCauley. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara Taylor was published this month.