Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
If you're familiar with Persephones, you're probably thinking of charming, cozy midcentury women's British fiction, like two of my first Persephone reads, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and Miss Buncle's Book, both of which are fun, delightful reads. The Home-Maker starts out with a much darker story; in fact, it was so depressing at first I almost abandoned it altogether. It did get better, though, and I'm really glad I stuck with it.
It's set in a small American town (not clear where, maybe the midwest) in the early part of the century. A struggling housewife, Evangeline Knapp, is obsessed with keeping her house clean and her family in order. They're all absolutely miserable -- she's practically OCD, her kids are cowed and frightened of her, her husband is in a dead-end accounting job at the local department store and probably has ulcers. They're all so unhappy, it's just awful. Her husband Lester is kind of a cerebral, poetic person, totally miserable stuck in an office, and when his job is on the line he considers suicide -- a bit like It's a Wonderful Life without the angels.
Something terrible happens, and Evangeline is forced to pick up the pieces of the family and go looking for a job. There had been previous hints of Eve's quick mind and inventiveness, but she'd been completely stifled in her role as Wife and Mother. So things start to turn up for this family. Basically, this book is a very feminist, forward look at gender roles and families. It was so surprising and I was absolutely rooting for the Knapp family and couldn't wait to find out how it all turned out. This book was published more than 80 years ago and it's still very timely, given the struggles of couples and families to balance work and childcare, and the issues of childrearing and caregivers. It's pretty groundbreaking.
I'm really glad I was able to get a copy via ILL, but I was totally annoyed while reading it -- I got to page 315 (it's 320 pages) and I realized a page was missing. Of course I was able to get the gist of the ending but I was sort of thrown for a loop. Luckily, I was able to find it online through Google reader and read the two missing pages. How irritating -- has that ever happened to anyone else?
By the way, if you're a fan of Persephones, you'll be pleased to learn that The Home-Maker is being reprinted as a Persephone Classic next June, and will be readily available for the U. S. market (according to Amazon.com and The Book Depository). You can even pre-order now if you're willing to wait for it.