Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fidelity by Susan Glaspell


Susan Glaspell

I'm way behind on my TBR Pile Challenge list, it's already February!  Originally, my goal was to complete one from the list every month.  Finally, I've finished Fidelity by Susan Glaspell, one of the first Persephones I ever purchased (which has been sitting around unread since about 2010, ahem!)


Anyway.  This is one of the Persephones by an American writer, which tends to be a little jarring for me -- if I read a lovely dove-grey book I usually expect it to be British, so reading about life in small-town America was a little strange every time I picked it up.  This is the story of Ruth Holland, a young woman growing up in Iowa who upsets the balance of society in a small town when she runs off with a married man at the age of twenty.

The story begins thirteen years later, in 1913, when Ruth's oldest friend, Dr. Deane Franklin, returns home to Freeport with his new bride.  Deane and Amy are making the rounds of society parties, introducing Amy to all the best people in town, when Ruth's name comes up.  Ruth's scandalous behavior has caused ripples in the fabric of the town society that are still felt years later -- people still blame Deane somewhat for defending Ruth and standing by her.  Ruth's family was ostracized, and it hurt the family business.

Years later, Deane is still the physician for Ruth's family, and her father is dying.  He's written to Ruth to come and see her father one last time, and her arrival causes turmoil for Deane, his bride Amy, Ruth's former best friend, Edith, and for Ruth's sister and brothers.

The story is told in the third person, so the reader gets to see the story from various perspectives -- from Deane, who was once in love with Ruth, and still cares for her; from the bride Amy, whose joys as a newlywed are upset by Ruth's arrival; and by Ruth herself, who is still shunned by her old friends, most of the "society people" and even by members of her own family.   It's not so much about the fidelity of marriage, but about Ruth's infidelity to her friends and family and the entire town.

The beautiful endpapers from Fidelity, an image of a Log Cabin quilt sewn in Iowa

It's a really interesting story, and it really made me think about the interplay of people in a small town.  It's set 100 years ago, and it made me wonder how the story would have played out in the 21st century.  I've never lived in a small town -- my closest experience was living on a military base overseas, and though I can't say I knew everyone, I ran into people I knew constantly.  I suppose it wasn't unlike living in a small town, but one where the people changed every three or four years -- even if you knew everyone, you didn't know their whole life history and all the skeletons in their closets.

I'm sure there are still small communities like that, but people are so much more mobile today, and modern communications and technology have changed so much.   I was wondering if a situation like Ruth's could still take place today.   

A couple of years ago I read the other Persephone book by Susan Glaspell, Brook Evans, which is the story of a young girl who has an affair and gets pregnant, and how this affects three generations of a family.  It was so good I read it almost all in one sitting.    Besides these two, I don't think any of Susan Glaspell's books are still in print, which is an absolute shame, especially since she was a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright.  

This is the 49th book from the Persephone catalog that I've completed, and the first book for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge.  

8 comments:

  1. Interesting! I've never heard of these Persephone books. I love that they're world-wide. Great job finishing book #1 for the challenge! I'll be posting February's check-in on Friday the 15th, so be sure to link-up! :)

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    1. I'll be looking for it. One down, eleven to go!

      There are some great little-known books in the Persephone catalog, mostly mid-century books by women writers. Some great stuff. They're addictive!

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  2. Can I borrow this one from you? I know I've never really liked Persephone books, but this one sounds really interesting.

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    1. Of course!!! I'd love to discuss it if you have time to read it.

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  3. I love the Persephones mostly because they always end up throwing aside my assumptions, I still have far more than you to read though so perhaps I'll become jaded one day! I love the sound of this one, it seems a bit like a more modern Trollope novel, with a knotty problem at the heart of it. :)

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    1. This one turned out to be not what I expected at all! I also have Lady Chatterley's Lover on my list for the TBR Pile Challenge, so I wonder how they'll compare.

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  4. This summer while combing secondhand bookshops on the coast of Maine, I picked up on old hardcopy of Brook Evans and The Morning is Near Us. I only got them because I knew that Persephone had reissued some of her novels. After reading your review, I am glad I bought them.

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    1. Brook Evans was really good, I read it practically in one sitting. I haven't heard anything about The Morning is Near Us, so I'll look for it.

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