Well, I finished it yesterday afternoon. A few things I forgot to mention:
There’s a scene in a drugstore when Henry first gets back from Paris. Three little girls are sitting at the counter. The first orders a chocolate sundae. The second orders a pineapple soda with chocolate ice cream. The third says, “I think I’ll have a douche. Mamma says they are so refreshing.”
I just thought that was funny because it showed more of a risque sense of humor than I would have expected from Miss M.
Also: they call Coke, er, Coca-Cola, “dope”. Anyone ever heard that before?
And just for Sal: she mentions scuppernongs without explaining what they are. Hee.
Anyhow, Ilsa & Henry went to the theater to see a touring company perform a bunch of plays. Ilsa had never seen a play before and she was enthralled. They ended up meeting the lead actor, Franz, and he & Ilsa hit it off. He obviously wanted Ilsa to go with him when he left, but she didn’t.
Shortly after Franz left, Ilsa went blind and Monty drank some bad moonshine and died an agonizing death, leaving Ilsa with a mound of debt.
Then we skipped ahead in time 11 years. Ilsa took in boarders and taught piano to make ends meet. Her daughter, Brand, was now 19. Henry continued to lurk about and do nothing of substance. Also, strangely enough, although 11 years had passed, he had only aged 9 years 😉 (He was 24 in the previous section and 33 in this one, LOL. I’m not terribly surprised with this discrepancy. Miss M often makes timeline errors. She says she is bad at math and I believe her!)
Anyhow, Cousin William’s adopted son, Lorenzo, has his sights set on Brand, but Brand is afraid to leave Ilsa on her own (she thinks she will attempt suicide). One of the boarders is Joshua, a young writer. He’s written a novel, which has been sent out and rejected many times. He’s working on a second, but has basically given up, and is hiding out, unwilling to return home (he’s a Northerner) because he’s a failure. At the end of the story, his first book is accepted, and he comes back to life. Another boarder is an old teacher of Henry’s, Myra. She drinks to numb her disillusionment and is going to pieces. She’s the only character who speaks of God, and it’s in a bitter, cynical way.
Franz the actor passes through town. He’s as unsuccessful as Henry is, but at least not as stagnant. He and Ilsa are still in love, but Ilsa won’t go with him, because it would cause a scandal, and that would ruin Brand’s chances of living happily in the town. Lorenzo got a scholarship to a University in Wisconsin. Everyone expects that Brand will marry Lorenzo. I guess they expect that he will return in 4 years and she will wait.
The only people who have turned out well are Silver & Eddie (who we never see because he’s always busy working).
Henry eavesdrops on Franz and Ilsa. He tells Silver. Silver is like oh, Henry you’re so pathetic, get off your ass, stop pining over Ilsa and do something with your life! She says Eddie can get him a job if he wants it. Henry takes her up on the offer.
Violetta has become nasty and gossipy but no one has the guts to tell her to shut up and shove off. She barges in just as Franz & Ilsa are saying goodbye and ruins it and yet no one smacks her. Which is what she deserved. A good hard smack. Instead Henry walks out into the rain and gets wet.
Okay, overall, what struck me about this book. First of all, I see it a classic second novel. Her first was also classic in that it was “autobiographical”, and by that I mean not that it was about her, but it was very much based on her own real life experiences. For this book, she put it in a familiar setting (her mother was from the south and she lived there with her grandmother for a time) and I’m guessing that some of the characters were based on IRL relatives & such, but it looks like a first real attempt at plotting. Hence, a lot of melodramatic soapy elements, while at the same time the characters don’t do a whole lot.
That said, I liked it. I mean, partly that’s because I can see the context, and as a writer, I enjoyed dissecting it. She wrote her first few books while she was working as an understudy. The theater influence comes through, not just in the obvious, but also I think in the way the characters speak and act. I found this book, like others from her early years, less censored than her later efforts. That she was disillusioned with religion at this point in her life is pretty clear. And that’s interesting, considering where she went later in life.
Another reason not to dismiss it, is that the writing is strong. The characters may not be doing anything, but she does a good job of describing them doing nothing 😉 Yes, it could use tightening, but this is mostly in the realm of using the same word/phrase too many times, not horrible grammatical errors or anything.
Problems with it: Henry is the narrator, but we don’t really see him do anything except for pine over Ilsa. He doesn’t appear to have any other interests. This makes him rather one-dimensional.
Also, this book was published when she was 27/28, so I’m assuming it was written a year or so before that. It’s almost as if she didn’t know what to do with characters when they got to be older than she was at the time of writing, so she killed them off, or had them “go away”.
But honestly, I’m perplexed as to why this hasn’t been re-issued. It’s really not that bad. Think about all the crap out there! And there’s also no reason why it couldn’t have a go-round with a good editor before being re-issued (a couple of her early books were re-issued in the 80s with changes). So I don’t know. Maybe she feels it doesn’t speak for her where she is now. But that’s kind of revising history, isn’t it? Obviously this is what she believed then.