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5.0 out of 5 stars I drew strength from this book.
I did not like the first few chapters of the book because I found it so disturbing... Emma Garnett's father was a little to similar to the tyrranical father I grew up with. However, as I read on, I became more and more drawn to how Emma Garnett coped with the trauma in her life. I loved reading the words her husband said to help her through it: "Say it again...
Published on Oct. 29 1998

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling style despite glaring historical inaccuracies
Kaye Gibbons has a very breezy, readable style, and she has managed to capture very well the phrasing used in writings of the ante- and post-bellum period. I only wish her research had been done more carefully. As a long-time Virginia resident, I can safely say that her sense of the geography of this state is confused at best and downright wrong at its worst. She is...
Published on Aug. 6 1999 by K. Sterling


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4.0 out of 5 stars a different Civil War, Aug. 3 2003
By 
Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel (bowling green ohio) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
This historical novel of the Civil War begins with the protagonist's father having murdered a slave for talking back. We meet Emma Garnet Tate and Clarice immediately following, the former being the aforementioned daughter of a plantation owner; the latter being the support of the book, a strong, wise black woman who is actually the one who holds the family and the plantation together.
Emma is narrating in flashback as she rests in bed, pushing off death until she can finish her story. She grew up a girl who identified more with her father's slaves than with her father; more with intellectuals than socialites. Her father's religious, racist rage is a terrifying force, and at times it seems no one around him is going to survive unscathed. But Emma does escape, thanks to Quincy Powell, a Boston doctor whose perfection would be irritating had Emma not needed him so badly (and deserved him so much). After they marry and honeymoon (in Paris, with Clarice along with them), the war begins and Quincy opens a hospital to take care of wounded Confederate soldiers. Emma has to become a caregiver, nurse, and finally an unofficial doctor when the wounded and dying start pouring in. Besides the gory and realistic descriptions of the horror of war, there are also detailed passages regarding the sick carnival of a public hanging and the misguided attempts to heal with leeches and blood-letting. These realistic and uncompromising details cause the book to be fascinating instead of merely a diversion.
Emma Garnet has survived much, but at times she seems wishy-washy and irritatingly upper-class. Gibbons might have intended this, because the character who shines through the most is Clarice. She had known Mr. Tate from the time he was a little boy and had rescued him from an unimaginable situation, and is therefore the only person, including those in his own family, who is not afraid of him. She rises to each terrible event with determination and bravery, all the while cooking, cleaning, guiding the many other slaves of the household, and mothering Emma and her sister (they do have a much-beloved mother, but she is often ill). Emma loves Clarice as much as she would love the secret and best part of her own self, which it seems she sometimes mistakes Clarice to be.
Kaye Gibbons is a fabulous writer and weaves a story of the Civil War which is unflinching and also non-racist. The voice of the narrator sometimes sounds slightly pompous, but I feel that Emma is entitled due to the sometimes brutal life she led. I believe most readers will feel the same way, and also will probably see, as I do, that Clarice is the real heroine of this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars On the Occasion of my last afternoon, Nov. 23 2002
By 
sam (Flushing, Mi) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
Happiness can always be found eventually. Kaye Gibbons shows this from Emma
Garnet's point of view in her book, "On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon." Emma
Garnet's childhood, living on a plantation having many slaves, is very hard having to
always fear the temper of her father, Samuel L. Tate. Emma Garnet grows up feeling
sorry for her mother who isn't happy with her husband, to realize not all men are like
Mr. Tate. She meets a wonderful doctor, Quincy Lowell, and they become married having
3 children and living happily ever after. Although Emma Garnet finds extreme happiness, she
finds sorrow as well. "On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon" goes through a timeline of
Emma Garnet's life and with that it tells the many people that she loses along the way.
Kaye Gibbons does a wonderful job at telling the story with going back in time so that it
doesn't come across as confusing. Overall I thought that this book was great to read and
very interesting the whole way through.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Papa bad, Mama good...., July 28 2001
By 
annie (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
Saints Emma Garnet and her husband Quincy grated my nerves so much I wished the South would have won! The characters were completely flatline. Papa very bad, mother angelic, Negroes very good, war very bad. There they were reading Aristotle and Latin verse to their children under the spreading Sycamore and they still had time to turn their house into a hospital,sing to the rebel soldiers who had either just lost their arm or intestinal tract, send every desperate kid that turned up to school, make clothes for the poor and.... that was just before their freed black maid took the kids on for a bit of extra classical Greek before their collard greens.God they were good to that woman.
When Quincy died of overwork what was his widow to do? Why, open a school for freed slaves,volunteer at a lunatic asylum, buy a factory,start a clothing business and run a pottery operation of course! With all her daughters married to professionals and making pantloads of money she had to fill in her time somehow.
This book, which I actually read at wartp speed has had an ill effect on my delicate humours. Why I can barely look at a glass of lemonade or a gingersnap without feelin' faint. In fact I think I am going out now to volunteer my services at the local asylum...before I make bandages from my hoop skirt and finish off the shoes for my neighbours kids.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Superficially literary, but founded on no research, March 19 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
It amazes me that someone would write, and that someone would publish, a historical novel founded so shakily as this. It's written in a literary style which fooled me at first into thinking it might be a worthwhile book. But the historical errors were very off-putting. Just to name a couple of the obvious ones: The main character is, I think (though I may be wrong, because it was never entirely clear) supposed to be living, at the time of the war, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Therefore, it is completely impossible that wounded soldiers from Gettysburg (or any other major Eastern theatre battle) could have made it to her hospital. Also, the portrayal of General McClellan raiding houses in Virginia with his "bummers" is purely ridiculous -- McClellan was actually censured for protecting Rebel property too *much*, and he wasn't even in command at the time the events are presented as happening! The characterization of Southern soldiers reveals the author to have eschewed reading McPherson, Wiley, Power or any other authority on the subject. So, historically, the book doesn't make sense. I also found the characters to be unlikeable. I actually found the father, loudmouthed and vulgar as he is, to be more appealing than the snippy, mean, judgmental daughter. I could never quite figure out why he's supposed to be so bad. There are hints that he's a wife-beater, but we're never actually shown that. And the structure of the text -- all the main character reminiscing after the events are actually done -- deprives the book of any narrative tension whatsoever. It gets two stars for the reasonably fluent writing, but overall, I'd skip this.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A talented tale of a delightful, not 'proper' Southern lady, March 11 2001
By 
Lisa Sloane (Gaithersburg, Md) - See all my reviews
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
In this novel, the protagonist-Emma- is clearly defined, characterized and introduced. Yet I am not certain of the intended antagonist; whether it was the cruel and obnoxious character she called father, or the honest harshness of the Old South and the Civil war or simply the frigidness of life itself. Regardless, all played a role in the shaping of a strong, simple, independent woman living in a time when such a woman was not politically correct. In this novel, we are privy to Emma Garnet's dying thoughts of reflection; on the occasion of her last afternoon in a world that has shown her cruelty, deception , garishness and agonizing love. The complexity and duplicity of her character is alluded to simply by her name- Emma Garnet. The name Emma conveys something classical, romantic and fragile and then is quickly followed by Garnet, something hard, strong, rigorous and yet somehow delightfully alluring. The protagonist proves to be all of these. We explore her childhood and familial relationships that make her into the person she is. As the daughter of a Southern plantation owner, Emma is influenced by her studious, yet estranged brother in the North to read and become more self educated, she learns love and devotion from her real mother, as well as a surrogate mother; the family's free black woman named Clarice. Because Clarice knows the deep secrets of her father's boyhood, she is the only person who has any control over the unruly, pretentious, morbid behavior of a man that believes in the Confederacy and does not want a daughter who communizes with the slaves, attempts to gain knowledge and basically is not interested in becoming a proper Southern lady. Luckily, Emma Garnet is couted by a man from the north-Dr. Quincy Lowell- a fair, just and contemporary man whom she soon marries. Once free from the constrictions of her father, Quincy teaches Emma Garnet to love, to trust and to overcome, he also teaches her how to become a doctor and a surgeon during the Civil War when young men were in dire need of medical assistance. Emma Garnet and her family are also influenced and often ridiculed by their fair and partial treatment of the 'slaves' that they own. They are overjoyed at the culmination of the Civil War and the freedom of their black friends, but at the same time- they are stranded with the running of a household and hospital with none of their recently freed friends to help them.
Although it's been blamed for being predictable, the vitality of the characters and the closeness the reader develops with them makes this novel well worth the reading time invested. The talented author, (Kaye Gibbons), sufferes from mental illness and said to be in a state of hypomania when writing this work of art- I guess this may have lent faith to the duplicity of the character but certainly did not negatively impact this book in the least, maybe this state is when Ms. Gibbons does her best work. I was moved by the characters, my heartstrings were tugged countless times, I admired Emma Garnet's strength, wisdom and perseverance. I empathized with her struggle to overcome tragedy and defeat; whether it be to dealing with her father, learning to become a doctor or being taught how to be a housewife in the course of one evening. The language reminded me of the aesthetically pleasing Gothic novels of Charlotte Bronte and Emily Dickenson, and it was quite an easy read. "On the Occasion of My last Afternoon" has a deep-set heart, soul and integrity, and I would most definitely recommend it.
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2.0 out of 5 stars If only the last afternoon had come sooner!, Jan. 24 2001
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
This book illustrates a perfect case for a good plot dragged out to the point of oblivion. Emma Garnet, the main character, is the daughter of a tyrannical father who strongly favors slavery and faithfully puts politics before his family of six children. Emma is a sensitive child who cleaves to her equally-kind mother and despises the person her father represents. Thankfully, when she is little more than a teenager, she is whisked away by one Dr. Quincy Lowell whom she marries and moves far, far away with, taking the family "slave" (but not really), Clarice with her. Besides feeling guilty for leaving her mother alone to deal with her father, Emma Garnet has never been happier with her husband and three baby girls. As the war begins, she works along Quincy's side in doctoring the wounded, along with feeding and educating the poor. This is where the book should have ended, about two-thirds of the way through. Instead, it drones on and on and on. Quincy is too good to be true (I have never in all my life met such a hero) and Emma Garnet becomes a woman who is constantly trying to prove how strong and wise she is. It just gets dull quick. I can honestly say as I have now read at least three of Gibbons' books, thay I am going to lay to permanent rest those I have missed thus far.
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2.0 out of 5 stars If only the last afternoon had come sooner!, Jan. 24 2001
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
This book illustrates a perfect case for a good plot dragged out to the point of oblivion. Emma Garnet, the main character, is the daughter of a tyrannical father who strongly favors slavery and faithfully puts politics before his family of six children. Emma is a sensitive child who cleaves to her equally-kind mother and despises the person her father represents. Thankfully, when she is little more than a teenager, she is whisked away by one Dr. Quincy Lowell whom she marries and moves far, far away with, taking the family "slave" (but not really), Clarice with her. Besides feeling guilty for leaving her mother alone to deal with her father, Emma Garnet has never been happier with her husband and three baby girls. As the war begins, she works along Quincy's side in doctoring the wounded, along with feeding and educating the poor. This is where the book should have ended, about two-thirds of the way through. Instead, it drones on and on and on. Quincy is too good to be true (I have never in all my life met such a hero) and Emma Garnet becomes a woman who is constantly trying to prove how strong and wise she is. It just gets dull quick. I can honestly say as I have now read at least three of Gibbons' books, thay I am going to lay to permanent rest those I have missed thus far.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling style despite glaring historical inaccuracies, Aug. 6 1999
By 
K. Sterling "freelance writer" (Richmond, VA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
Kaye Gibbons has a very breezy, readable style, and she has managed to capture very well the phrasing used in writings of the ante- and post-bellum period. I only wish her research had been done more carefully. As a long-time Virginia resident, I can safely say that her sense of the geography of this state is confused at best and downright wrong at its worst. She is also incorrect when she tells of wounded soldiers being transported from Gettysburg and Antietam all the way to Raleigh so that they can undergo surgery at the hands of the main character's husband. No soldier needing surgery would ever have made it such a great distance, and the railroads were in such a dismal state that the Confederacy could not have transported desperately wounded men that far, even if it had had a mind to. Wounded men were generally treated in farmhouses and churches and barns nearest the battlefield. However, her portrayal of hospital conditions is accurate, and her knowledge of medicine is impressive. Her characters, although interesting, are a little two-dimensional -- either tolerant and good and wise, or abusive and narrow-minded. No one is depicted with the usual beauties and warts we generally find in humans. It is a testament to the strength of Gibbons' style that I enjoyed reading the book despite these glaring problems.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Step back in time....., May 31 1999
This review is from: On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon (Paperback)
This was my first experience with Ms. Gibbons writings. I had the fortunate experience of listening to this book on audio. read by Polly Holliday, better known as "Flo" from the 70's series "Alice". She had a range with all of her voices which allowed characters as Emma Garnet, Clarice and the horrible Samuel P. Tate come to life as I drove down the interstate. I had just returned from a trip touring Civil War Battlefields in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. This book brought me to those places in my mind as they really were. Gibbons portrays Emma Garnet as a sympathetic, yet strong woman as she ventures further into her life with her beloved Quincy. If I had a criticism of this novel, it would be this. Could Emma Garnet have any MORE people in her life die during the span of the book? As each death occured (if I spoil anything for future readers, I humbly apologize) I thought to myself, "Can anyone survive to keep this woman going?" But all in all, I very much enjoyed the ride. It was portrayed at a brisk pace and I was spellbound the entire 5 hour length of the audio cassette.
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3.0 out of 5 stars somehow disappointing, March 24 1999
By A Customer
i fell in love with kaye gibbons writing when i read ellen foster -- her writing encapsulated everything i love about southern literature. easy prose -- but not simplistic, a great story, and memorable, wonderful characters. emma garnet and all the characters in "my last afternon" read like caricatures. the whole story has a shallowness that i wasn't expecting. it's like kaye gibbons had this wonderful idea, but just coudn't quite realize it in writing. none of the characters were particularly believable. her father was too horrible -- with no redeeming features, and her husband was too annoyingly perfect -- as were her chidren and her idyllic life as a married woman. the fact that she did not tell her servants that they were free did not, in fact, make me like her less, but was an indication that the author was trying to create a believable narrator that was a product of her time, rather than the creation of a 20th century mind. but that only exists as a hint.
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On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon
On the Occasion of my Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons (Paperback - May 1 1999)
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