The Last Resort
Taking the Mississippi Cure
The story of a childhood at Allison's Wells and one woman's combat with the hypocrisies of segregated society
Raised under the racial segregation that kept her family's southern country hotel afloat, Norma Watkins grows up listening at doors, trying to penetrate the secrets and silences of the black help and of her parents' marriage. Groomed to be an ornament to white patriarchy, she sees herself failing at the ideal of becoming a southern lady.
The Last Resort, her compelling memoir, begins in childhood at Allison's Wells, a popular Mississippi spa for proper white people, run by her aunt. Life at the rambling hotel seems like paradise. Yet young Norma wonders at a caste system that has colored people cooking every meal while forbidding their sitting with whites to eat.
Once integration is court-mandated, her beloved father becomes a stalwart captain in defense of Jim Crow as a counselor to fiery, segregationist Governor Ross Barnett. His daughter flounders, looking for escape. A fine house, wonderful children, and a successful husband do not compensate for the shock of Mississippi's brutal response to change, daily made manifest by the men in her home. A sexually bleak marriage only emphasizes a growing emotional emptiness. When a civil rights lawyer offers love and escape, does a good southern lady dare leave her home state and closed society behind? With humor and heartbreak, The Last Resort conveys at once the idyllic charm and the impossible compromises of a lost way of life.
. . . This is a tale, first, of an enchanted childhood, then a murky drama of marriage and adultery, all played out against a background of bitter American struggle. I found it splendid in every way.- Carolyn See, The Washington Post
Norma Watkins, a rare, brave, and entrancing human being, has written a uniquely Mississippi story about coming to terms with family, state, and tumultuous times--and discovering herself in the process. It is a great read, pure and simple.- Hodding Carter III
Norma Watkins takes her readers through one woman's journey toward understanding herself and the Mississippi in which she grew up. It is a soul-searching work, one with which many women will identify.- Kay Mills
What a book! What a woman! And what a life she has led . . . touching upon all the major issues of our time. I was riveted from start to finish. Brave, honest, and open, Norma Watkins is a born writer through and through. The Last Resort is an absolute must-read for all southern women--and men, too--as she shines a light into some of the darkest, most secret and sacred areas of our culture. This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read.- Lee Smith
The Last Resort reminded me of why I started reading in the first place--to be enchanted, to be carried away from my world and dropped into a world more vivid and incandescent. Norma Watkins casts her spell with exquisite sentences and unerring evocative details. She is a writer of inordinate compassion and formidable intelligence. This unsparing and unsentimental memoir documents a woman's struggle for independence over the course of her lifetime and took great moral courage and ferocious honesty to write. And let me add that this book is so much more than personal memoir. It is an eye on history. Norma Watkins puts us there at the white hot center of the struggle for racial equality in Jackson, Mississippi, in the turbulent fifties and sixties.- John Dufresne