Review published on April 18, 2016.
This is one of a batch of eight rediscovered classics from Apollo. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1935 as a debut novel for a twenty-four year old who despite another ten novels was unable to recapture the critical acclaim- so thanks to Apollo for allowing modern readers the chance to discover this impressive work.
The narrator is fourteen years old at the start of the book. Marget arrives with her parents and two sisters to work a farm in an arid, hostile environment. The eldest sister, Kerren, is an intense disturbed girl but is the only one who can make an escape from the farm when she commences a local teaching job. Marget and Merle are devoted to the life of the farm, although the environment and a hefty mortgage ensure that it will always be a struggle to survive. Their father employs Grant, a neighbour’s son to help out which inevitably stir emotions in the young women. In the introduction Michael Schmidt compares the author to an Emily Bronte from a different era and continent. In “Wuthering Heights” the landscape infiltrates the novel, in this the landscape becomes the novel. There’s little joy to be found here, the cycle of the year brings its continual challenges. A birthday celebration ends tragically and even a period of plenty is dismissed because if everyone has plenty then no-one will buy. The most overwhelming challenge is drought. The novel does read like a prose poem and incidents away from the struggle of everyday existence are rare until the last third when a catastrophic event begins to heap tragedies upon the family.
Characterisation is strong and it is much easier to read than the above would suggest. At times it reminded me of Steinbeck’s later “Grapes Of Wrath” as it shares his ability to step back from the story at times and let the environment tell its own tale. There’s much for reading groups to discuss and I’m looking forward to reading others in the Apollo series.
Now In November – Josephine Johnson
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