19

Library obsession

When this all first started, the thing that I found the most difficult to deal with was that the library was closed. And I know that that is a statement that is loaded with privilege.

My office is a block away from a library that is SO GOOD. I had become very accustomed to popping in once or twice a week and casually browsing or collecting holds while dropping off the books that were due back, most read, some unread. And suddenly not only did I not have that experience, I had no way of getting a hold of new free books and I had a lot of free time!

I don’t read electronically and even a pandemic couldn’t induce me to start!

It got expensive pretty quickly, ignoring the 75 or so unread books I still had in my home.

But then, at the beginning of the summer, the library partially reopened. At first they would package up your holds and you made an appointment to collect them. Now you don’t need an appointment but you still can only put books on hold if you want to take any out.

Reader, I have abused the largesse of the library. I currently have 7 books on hold and 13 books out. Two of those holds are ready to collect and it is taking so much willpower not to go back and put more books on hold that I could bring home with me at the same time.

wizard books

This always happens to me – cut me off from books for a period of time and I will go very overboard when the restriction is lifted. Here’s what I have out from the library right now – what do I absolutely have to read?

Akin by Emma Donogue. I have been chasing the love I had for Room through all of her books and so far neither Frog Music nor The Wonder have done it. Maybe Akin will hit the right note?

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen. This is the next book we’re discussing for Literary Wivesat the beginning of September!

Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer. Earlier this summer I read The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict and I immediately put a hold on a biography of Hedy Lamarr.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Remember what I was saying about reading more Romance than ever before? I keep hearing about this book, I waited for ages for my hold to come in for it and now I keep not reading it.

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith. The 4th in the Isabel Dalhousie series because sometimes I really need to spend time in Edinburgh amidst Smith’s philosophical musings on love and life.

How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah P. Klein. I have had this in my possession since MARCH.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell. Here is an author that really delivers every time. It’s always a good idea to have a Lisa Jewell kicking around in case you need to reset your reading mojo.

Lost Girls: An American Mystery by Robert Kolker. I recently read his book Hidden Valley Road about a family of 12 children, six of whom had a form of schizophrenia. I couldn’t pass up the chance to read another book of his in the true crime genre!

Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen. I’m actually reading this one right now and let’s just say I’m really glad it’s a library book.

Pride by Ibi Aanu Zoboi. I heard about this one on the Currently Reading podcast and it sounded like something I should read immediately, even though it’s YA and that’s for sure not a genre I read a lot of.

I have a lot of books to get through and since my library has also reinstated due dates, I no longer have the option of keeping these for forever. Not that I want to! But I’m going to have to be strategic about what I read, what to maybe return unread, and what can be renewed.

Have libraries reopened where you are? Or do you actually live in the 21st century and read ebooks?

 

6

Getting reacquainted with Grace Kelly

Iv’e really been enjoying historical fiction this year. It’s always been a genre favourite of mine but I’d been having a hard time finding ones that I connected to. I don’t always like a first person narrative and that can be a challenge to work around in historical fiction.

But this year quite a number of them have clicked. Last year I read and loved The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher (it led me to read the biography Kick which remains a favourite) and recently I followed that up with The Girl in White Gloves also by Kerry Maher.

Years ago, as part of my ongoing Read About Royal Women project, I read a biography of Princess Grace by Donald Spoto. It was so boring I assumed I didn’t need to ever read about her again. She just seemed like a beautiful woman who always did everything right and people adored her and then she died.

girlin

Well, that is not the story told in The Girl in White Gloves and I know it’s fiction but there has to be some kernel of truth in this story. This book starts with Grace Kelly at acting school and moves forward through her career, how she dreamed of being on Broadway and “settled” for being in the movies, her relationships with the men she worked with, the way she butted heads with her parents, and finally to her relationship with Prince Rainier. And then the book checks in with her at different points in her marriage: before her 40th birthday when Rainier asks what kind of party she wants and she knows she should just tell him what he wants to hear to avoid the fight, when she’s back home in Philadelphia before the death of her father, in Paris with her two daughters worried about Stephanie and the choices she’s making where men are concerned, a moment she shares with a young Lady Diana, before her wedding where Princess Grace tells her to call her anytime she’s having a hard time.

Maher is extremely skilled at bringing these women to life and showing that there is more to them than how they are viewed by history. I had an idea of Princess Grace and this book kind of smashed that and I’m really glad! Maybe I picked the wrong biography of her all those years ago, one that was sanctioned, that white washed the details of a more interesting life.

I also really enjoyed the googling that came with this read. I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of Grace Kelly, her gigantous engagement ring, her wedding gown, her civil ceremony outfit, her dresses in High Society (I was reminded that that’s her actual engagement ring she wears as Tracy Lord) etc etc.

Kerri Maher is two for two for me and I am anxiously waiting for whatever her next book is.

Have you ever read something that changed how you felt about someone/thing?

0

We’ve been here before…

Oh hey. I wonder how many posts I have that start like this? You know, the ones where I’d recently ‘decided’ that I was back to this blogging lark and meant to really get back to it and then…didn’t.

I think about it all the time. But the doing, that’s the hard part.

I’ve been reading a lot. And a lot of the books I’ve read this year have been incredible. If there’s anything good about this year it’s that the universe knew we’d need quality reading material and it delivered. I’ve been drawn to a lot of non-fiction for some reason. As though while the world is raging, I could at least use the time to learn something. I’ve also been drawn to lighter reads for obvious reasons. I’ve read more romance than I think I ever have before and I’m loving it.

Since we found ourselves in quarantine on March 16th (I was one of the first to not have a birthday 🙂 ) I have finished 60 books. Not that that means I’ve finished the 20 Books of Summer Challenge!

If you follow me on instagram (@paperbprincess) you have seen some of my reading. But none of those posts are ever super in-depth – my poor hands can’t type on a phone keyboard for very long and instagram is really about the pretty pictures anyway – and I have found that I miss the interactions that blogging offers.

So I’m going to make more of an effort to be in this space. Because I really do like it here. And what else am I going to do these days?

britney

4

#20BooksofSummer: Upstairs Downstairs

The first month of the#20BooksofSummer Challenge, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books, is done! And while I may have failed spectacularly at reviewing said books, I have managed to actually read four of my 12 books.

You already know how I felt about Rivers of London, today I’m going to do a two-for-one and talk about Servants and The Fifth Avenue Artists Society because they are ever so slightly related and that’s how I roll.

fifthavenue

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Calloway is kind of a love story, kind of  Little Women homage, and kind of a mystery. Virginia Loftin is the Jo March in her family of artists that includes a sister who designs hates for fashionable New Yorkers (in the Gilded Age this includes the Vanderbilts and the Astors), one who’s a teacher, and one who is musical. Virginia has been in love with Charlie, the boy next door, for as long as she can remember but his circumstances means proposing to a woman who comes with an independent fortune. In the throes of heartbreak, her brother brings her to a creative salon where writers, artists and musicians show and discuss their work and make connections to hopefully be able to make money from it.

But there are other things going on behind the scenes and some of the shiny young people who showed such promise die in mysterious circumstances. Once Virginia becomes involved with the host of the Society, John Hopper, she’s drawn in closer to the center of the storm.

I love a great Gilded Age historical novel but it took me a while to connect to this one. There was a lot happening in the shadows but never quite enough to pull me in. I’m not convinced that the mystery portion of the plot was given enough attention – it was like Calloway couldn’t decided if that was to be the main focus or a bonus and decided to play it safe by skirting the issue entirely.

That said, the ending was every kind of satisfying. Reading the Author’s Note I discovered that Virginia was based on a real relative of Calloway’s, that she and her sisters were real people and The Fifth Avenue Artists Society an attempt at telling their story (with some embellishments). I kind of wished that we had gotten a non-fiction tale instead. This one was intriguing but not quite the Gilded Age hit I was looking for.

And now we stretch to connect Servants to The Fifth Avenue Artists Society – servants were all but non-existent in the latter but had Virginia and her family still had money they would have for sure had them.

servants

I have long been fascinated by the role of domestic servants in Britain but it’s hard to find books that focus solely on them. I was really excited to come across Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge, hoping that it would fill in some of that knowledge gaps.

Servants jumps all over the place quite a bit. Some sections are about specific roles (butlers, nurses/governesses), others are about service in places like India, still others about how ‘going into service’ was viewed at different points in time. It never felt like it was a super focused book, even though it was very thoroughly researched.

I recently read Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes by Virginia Nicholson and that book did an incredible job of telling the stories of women in the 1950s who were “just” housewives. I think I was hoping for more of that from Servants. I wanted to hear the stories of the men and women who chose to spend their careers in service to others, what their backgrounds were, what they thought of the work they did and the people they worked for. Mostly it was more or less anonymous snippets from letters and journals without a real sense of the people who wrote those things.

And for a book about servants we sure got to hear a lot from those who employed them and what they thought of them and the work that they did (hint: not much).

Reading Servants mostly made me want to go back and read more of Virginia Nicholson’s work. Thankfully Singled Out is part of my #20BooksofSummer list!

10

#20BooksofSummer: Rivers of London

It’s not even the middle of June and I have surprised myself by already having read a couple of the books from my #20BooksofSummer list.

This is definitely due to the fact that I still don’t have access to library books and buying all the books is getting expensive. However, this weekend I will be collecting new library books thanks to curbside service so let’s see how long I can keep this going!

Rivers_of_London

The first book we’re going to talk about from the list is Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Peter Grant is a brand new London constable and he and his friend, Lesley May, are keeping an eye on a crime scene in the middle of the night when a ghost tells Peter what happened to the victim. This encounter leads Peter to a secret unit within the police that is dedicated to keeping the world of magic happy.

Except the world of magic is not happy and Peter is soon on the trail of a pissed of spirit that is wreaking havoc all over the city, murdering civilians and splitting open faces. Rivers of London is billed as if Harry Potter grew up and became a police officer and there are some charming moments calling that story to mind in the beginning.

However.

This might not have been the time to read a story about the police full of jokes about the systems that keep poor people in their place.

Additionally, Ben Aaronovitch is a white male and some of his choices with regards to his characters are problematic. Peter Grant is biracial and that seems to have given Aaronovitch license to make generalizations about Black women, like that Black moms bring their children to work because they expect them to work. That might be true – I don’t have an experience of having a Black mom. But it feels wrong and icky coming from someone who also presumably doesn’t have that experience.

And then there is the way that he’s written about women in general. Peter Grant “gets hard” in the presence of Mother Thames, a beautiful Black woman he is supposed to be working with to figure out what’s going on. Instead he objectifies her. He also enjoys watching the breasts of every female character straining against sweaters and brushing against his shoulders.

A few years ago, I might have been able to enjoy this book for what it is – a police procedural with a twist – but now? I had a hard time getting past these serious flaws and I’m probably not going to search out the rest of the books in the series.

13

#LiteraryWives: The Dutch House

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

This month we have a new Wife joining us! Please welcome Cynthia to the group! Cynthia is a former technical writer business analyst, Peace Corps Volunteer, and teacher from Texas who traded that life in for two suitcases and a string of foreign addresses. Or at least that was the plan until COVID19 hit. You can find her at her blog, I Love Days and I hope you’ll pop in and read her take on The Dutch House.

And as always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Cynthia @ I Love Days
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

A note before we get to it: I read The Dutch House at Christmas, before it was selected as one of our Literary Wives picks. So I didn’t read it with that lens and it was a dense read from the library which means I didn’t re-read it for this. All that to say, I’m clearly the slacker of the Literary Wives bunch.

The Book

From Goodreads:

dutch houseAt the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

My Thoughts

I’m glad that I read this one over Christmas because it meant that I had big chunks of time to sit with it. As ever Ann Patchett is the master of the character driven novel, creating a layered relationship between a brother and sister that you don’t see that often in literature. I always enjoy these decades-long stories of a single family and all the ways that they betray each other, and The Dutch House definitely scratched that itch for me.

What does the book say about being a wife?

There were three marriages at the centre of this one: Cyril and Elna, Danny and Maeve’s parents, Cyril and Andrea, the stepmother, and then later Danny and his wife. None of the marriages are built on any version of truth, rather they are built on fairy tales and idealizations. Cyril dreams of owning the Dutch House, of living a big life, the kind that was only ever dreamed about where he grew up; Elna lives to help the less fortunate, the excess of the life Cyril has built for them disgusting her. Andrea only ever seems to want to possess the house, not seeming to care for Cyril except in what he can give her. And Danny actively lies to his wife, buying and flipping properties behind her back because he knows that she wouldn’t approve.

But as Maeve and Danny are the centre of this story, we only get their views of the marriages and the wives. Maeve in particular builds her mother up to be some kind of saint. When Elna reappears, she is very much not that. Each woman a portrait of wifedom, lacking the animation of the real thing.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! In September we’ll discuss Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen.

23

#20BooksofSummer

Oh hey, remember me? I have been toying with getting back into the blogging game – I’ve been reading so much more recently (yay!) and have Thoughts that feel too big for an instagram caption (that’s where I’ve been sharing my reading in case you’re wondering).

Then I saw that it was time for Cathy @ 746 Books’ #20BooksofSummer challenge and that seemed like a really good way to get back into the swing of things.

20-books

The goal is to make a list of twenty books that you will read between June 1 and September 1 and ideally, to post about them.

I’m not doing twenty books though – that feels too big for me even though, what else am I going to do this summer amirite? – so we’re going with twelve. Here’s my list!

Servants: A Downstairs History Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge. Sounds pretty self explanatory right?/

Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson. I have had this one on my shelves for YEARS. I just finished her book about housewives in the 1950s and it was so wonderful that I’m very much looking forward to her take on women of a different generation.

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts. This one is billed as a “Black Great Gatsy” which is likely doing a disservice to the book but I’m game to read about an African-American family chasing their dreams through generations.

How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success by Tovah P. Klein. I promise I’m not one of those striver parents eager for their child to be on the lists of all the best schools. But I am always interested in different parenting philosophies and learning how not to mess up my kid. Plus this is the last library book I have out that I have yet to read.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter. It’s summer! You need to have a dark, twisty, heinous thriller on hand.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen. This sounds a bit like One Day in that two 18 year olds cross paths and then we check back in on them every year for sixteen years. Again, it’s summer!

Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall, and Alice Waters Changed Our World by Andrea Barnet. This is an ARC that I’ve had on my shelf for too long and it’s very much in my wheelhouse.

The Secrets You Keep by Kate White. Fun fact: I used to work with the guy who took the photo that was used on this cover. When he told me that, I bought the book and then…didn’t read it. More thriller/mystery fodder.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. This book was picked to be on Canada Reads 2020 and then it was obviously cancelled like so many other wonderful things. I’m hoping it eventually makes it back onto the schedule and then I will be ready, having read this one.

The Fifth Avenue Artists’ Society by Joy Calloway. Four years ago my wonderful friend came to visit me from Amsterdam. When we were in a bookstore we decided we’d each buy this same book and we’d read it together when we were apart again. She has read it, I still have not. I keep picking it up when I’m in the mood for historical fiction and I always put it back down. Hoping that this is the impetus I need to get it read.

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. What can I say? I have a two year old and she is a very determined little lady. I would love less screaming in my life.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. This might be the most random selection on my list, since I’m not really one to go in for any kind of fantasy. But if any time is the right time to branch out of our comfort zone, then this is probably it. Murder, London, magic? Sure.

So there you have it. Those are my twelve books to read by the end of summer! Five non-fiction, seven fiction, some thrillers, some light fiction, some history – here’s to great summer reading!

5

#LiteraryWives: The War of the Wives

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

If you haven’t already (because I was supposed to post about this on Monday), please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

Just before we get to it, I want to apologize to the other bloggers in this group for dropping the ball so egregiously this time. For some reason it was impossible for me to get a copy of this book (from 2015!) and even though I ordered it from Amazon weeks ago, it didn’t arrive until Monday. And then I got a stomach bug. But I finally finished it last night so let’s do this.

The Book

war or the wives

Selina Busfield looks great for her age. At nearly 50, her skin is smooth (thanks to Botox), her body lean (thanks to yoga at her club), and her home is magazine worthy (thanks to years of buying piece by expensive piece). Her children are nearly grown, and although they aren’t necessarily who or what she would have pictured, they are fine. Her husband, Simon, splits his time between their home and his apartment in Dubai where he works in property development. It’s not ideal but Selina has more than enough to be getting on with, running their home, keeping up with their friends and keeping herself in shape.

And then one night she gets a call from the police. Her husband’s body has been found in the river. Not in Dubai, where he’s supposed to be, but in London. And that’s not even the biggest surprise. At the funeral, a woman shows up and says that she’s Simon’s wife and this is their daughter.

Lottie Busfield has been with Simon for the better part of 20 years. Where Selina is contained, Lottie is a more artistic personality, younger than her husband by 15 years, content to live their life based on what he wants or needs. Two years ago she and their daughter, Sadie, moved back to London while Simon kept working in Dubai.

Now that their husband is gone, both Selina and Lottie have to come to terms with the truth of their marriages, the infidelities and worse, the financial implications of his death.

My Thoughts

This book had actually been on my TBR list for ages, for 4 years! I was drawn to the idea of a melodrama where two women face off after losing a shared husband. But I felt like this book couldn’t decide what it was. For the first two-thirds it was what I expected. Selina and Lottie are both grappling with this new reality, dancing around each other’s families, working through the stages of grief in the midst of the betrayal of the other’s marriage. I liked that the book was split into sections named for the stages of grief, it gave the book a nice flow and allowed Cohen to move the story forward in time pretty seamlessly.

But.

In the end I felt like this book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Was it a melodrama, a novel of loss and lies? Or was it a thriller? A “the call is coming from inside the house” kind of deal? I could have done without the allusion to possible incest (I choose to read a lot of messed up fiction, but incest storylines are something I just don’t mess with), the creepy son, the shady dealings the husband may or may not have been involved in, and the stalker vibes.

What does the book say about being a wife?

Both Selina and Lottie wrap their identities in the shell of being wives. Although very different from each other, once their wifehood ends (Selina becomes a widow, Lottie learns her marriage was never legal), each unravels. Selina gives up being the image of the perfect wife: she stops going to the gym (can’t afford the monthly club dues anyway), lets her hair grow out, has casual sex with Simon’s financial advisor. Lottie just retreats into her grief. She thinks she sees Simon everywhere, she wants to live in the memories and the dreams of him, she gives in to the chemical peace offered by the sedatives prescribed by her doctor.

Both women got together with Simon when they were relatively young. Selina gave up on her law degree with a year to go and never finished it. She focused on being a wife, and then a mother, making their home a haven, showing her love by cooking and doing everything for her family. When the children are grown (the youngest is 17 when Simon dies) and Simon is gone, she has to figure out what her life looks like as a single adult, something she never thought would happen. She also assumed that she’d be financially looked after, that Simon would always ensure that she wouldn’t have to worry about money. When that security blanket is also ripped away, Selina faces having to make her own way for the first time at 50. Without the protective layer of being Mrs Simon Busfield, Selina is suddenly at the mercy of the world.

Lottie was also a student when she met Simon, who was 15 years older (and had just had a new baby a month earlier). She let Simon take care of her – she took for granted that he would handle their finances, didn’t participate in the decisions around their money or mortgages, was content to sit by the pool and read novel after novel while they lived in Dubai. In London she works in a hotel or spa during the day and works on children’s book illustrations at night but is under no illusion that her work will pay the bills. She’s also been a fairly hands off mother to her teenage daughter, happy to watch how close Simon and Sadie are to each other. Simon’s death basically blows up Lottie’s entire life and she doesn’t have the personality of Selina to weather the storm.

Basically, Tamar Cohen is telling married women to make sure to participate in the finances!

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! My apologies again to my fellow Wives for being late to the party on this one.

10

The story of a story

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

You know, when Reese Witherspoon first started her book club I may have rolled my eyes a little. But damn it if she doesn’t pick excellent books!

One of her picks was Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept, a Cold War spy story about the publication of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Despite not having read Doctor Zhivago myself, I really really enjoyed reading the story of how it came to be.

secrets

The novel follows a number of points of view over the course of a few years – the group of typists in the States who are able to piece together parts of the story, Olga, Boris Pasternak’s mistress who spends years in the Gulag for her refusal to tell anyone about his work, Boris himself, Irina, an American-born Russian girl who goes to work as a typist before engaging in extra-curricular activities, and Sally, a woman who worked in the Secret Service during the war who has come back to help out on specific missions. Prescott uses these different POVs to create a layered multi-dimensional tale that I breezed through in a day.

Despite the many POVs in this novel, or maybe because of it, the story isn’t really about the characters. Oh, you get to know their histories and what happens to them, but they really only matter insofar as they are involved in this mission. I would have liked more information about the Russian side of things, in terms of why this book was deemed so subversive to the State but I guess that’s why nonfiction exists. The Secrets We Kept is the story about getting this one book out of Russia and into the hands of Russians.

I’ve seen mixed reviews of this book and it sounds like that comes down to expectations. Those who came to this novel expecting a straight-forward spy tale seem to be annoyed with the romantic entanglements that are also a part of it. I’m not sure why anyone would be irritated at getting more story but to each their own. Were some of the Russian sections a touch dramatic? Sure, but Russian literature is pretty dramatic! I thought Prescott did an amazing job telling this really crazy spy story while also letting her characters tell their own stories. Plus, how often do you get a lesbian love story in a spy novel? Not often enough!

I didn’t know anything about the publication of Doctor Zhivago and now I keep thinking about what an extraordinary sacrifice was made so that this book could see the light of day. And how I really need to read it ASAP.

The Secrets We Kept is a great book for a vacation read, or a cozy indoor day. It was a book that I read at the exact right time and there’s no better feeling than that.

6

#LiteraryWives: The Home-Maker

It’s time for Literary Wives, (for real this time) a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

If you haven’t already (because I was supposed to post about this on Monday), please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

homemaker

Published in 1924, The Home-Maker is quite progressive in it’s story of a woman who is forced to enter the workforce after an accident leaves her husband a paraplegic. Before she goes to work, Evangeline Knapp is a very competent home-maker, whose children are always well turned out, and who the other women in the community look up to as a pinnacle of motherhood. Her husband Lester meanwhile, took a job as an accountant against his more creative, artistic tendencies, who the community views as another burden that Evangeline must shoulder. Both parents are miserable while the two older children suffer from digestive ailments and their younger brother is a known terror whose mother can’t wait to send him to school.

Due to a company restructuring, Lester loses his job. But before he can tell Evangeline, there is a fire at a neighbour’s house and in trying to help, Lester ‘falls’ off a roof and winds up paralyzed. Evangeline, never one to sit back and rely on other people to do for her, goes to the store where Lester worked and asks if she might have a job. It turns out that Evangeline is also excellent at working in a department store and while she goes from strength to strength, Lester begins to work out how to keep the house and feed the children so that his wife doesn’t have to worry about anything but working. And he finds that he loves being home with the kids, that washing dishes and mending socks leaves his mind free to wander. The children improve in every way: the older two recover from their digestive problems and the youngest turns into a sunny, thoughtful, clever little boy.

My Thoughts

So, I loved this book. It gave me a lot to think about, how the pressures of the outside world and the expectations we have for our lives can erase the small joys. I loved reading about Lester discovering his children and what made them happy, the things that they thought about and how he was able to support them in growing to be the people they wanted to be. I also loved reading about the satisfaction that Evangeline got from learning the store business and how thrilled the store owners were with her, how she was exactly the kind of person they were looking for to help them run things.

Apparently when the book was published, Canfield Fisher was keen that people understand that she meant the book to be about the children, that it wasn’t a feminist work. In a lot of ways, the book does circle around the children. How, when their mother is home with them, everything is done and done well but there is no joy in the house. Evangeline is resigned to her life but she takes no pleasure in it, she is doing what society expects her to do. The same is true for Lester, and so their children become victims of those expectations. When they are forced to buck the norms, everything gets better.

What does the book say about being a wife?

For Evangeline, being a wife is a solitary endeavor because being a wife also means being a mother and being at home:

She passed her life in solitary confinement, as home-makers always do, with a man who naturally looked at things from a man’s standpoint […] and with children who could not in the nature of things share a single interest of hers…

Canfield Fisher seems to be saying that life is better for all if everyone, regardless of gender, is allowed to follow their heart’s desires. Lester, it turns out, is much better suited to home-making but he is only allowed to do it while he is physically incapable of going out to work. The neighbours certainly find it strange and odd that a man should want to do house work:

‘Oh Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It’s dreadful enough your having to do the housework!’
‘Eva darned them a good many years,’ he said, with some warmth, ‘and did the housework. Why shouldn’t I?’ He looked at her hard and went on, ‘Do you know what you are saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job, beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else.’

Lester and Evangeline are only able to be good partners to each other when they are allowed to follow their natural inclinations and contribute to the household based on their strengths. When it looks like things might go back to the way they were, because Lester may recover the use of his legs after all, both are devastated at the thought of it. Evangeline had been sacrificing for fourteen years because for her, in her time, being a wife means putting herself last and making sure everyone else is fed and clothed and the house is spotless. The role of wife constricted her and stifled her natural tendencies. Ultimately, Lester makes the biggest sacrifice by remaining in a wheelchair for the rest of his days so that his family can continue to thrive.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! My apologies again to my fellow Wives for being late to the party on this one. Join us in February when we read War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen.