Monday, May 18, 2009

Now in November

Finished Now in November by Josephine Johnson. It won the Pulitzer in 1935. This was Johnson's first novel. She was twenty-four when it was published. Set during the Depression it tells the story of a family's struggles to live with each other and to keep the farm they've put so much of themselves into.

Three sisters, Kerrin, Marget (the narrator) and Merle work alongside their mother performing the womanly tasks that are expected of them. Kerrin, the oldest, longs to work with her father on the land, but he thinks girls are too stupid and feeble to do so.

The novel is short, but spans ten years in the lives of the family on their farm. Towards the end of the decade Grant, the son of a neighbor, comes to live with them and help out. Kerrin, ever restless and rebellious, is distracted by him, as she would be by anyone new. Marget is quietly and desperately in love with him, but he himself is partial to Merle, who enjoys challenging him verbally, but has no interest in him as a mate.

Drought and tragedy take their toll on everyone, Kerrin in particular. At the beginning of the novel she is wild and untamed, much like Hans Christian Anderson's character of the Robber Girl in The Snow Queen. She teaches herself to throw a knife, wanders the woods alone most nights, sleeps in the barn and eats alone, like a starved animal. She becomes progressively unbalanced and in the end commits suicide. While horrible, this is almost a relief to her family who each felt that there was no place in the world for Kerrin and her odd ways.

The prose is spare, taught, poetic and bleak. The reader floats dreamlike through the days of drought and despair. Though I haven't read it yet, I think the impact of this book was perhaps overshadowed by Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath which won five years later.

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