Friday, November 1, 2013
In the 1930s, six women were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction - more than in any other single decade. (Especially the 1950s when every award went to a man.) Josephine Winslow Johnson was the fourth lady of the decade to take home the prize, in 1935, at the tender age of 24. Now in November was her first novel. It is the tragic story of a middle class family that returns to a long-forgotten farm to attempt to make new a life after the Great Depression has driven them into poverty. It is perfectly written, quietly yet powerfully feminist, and is a beautiful - if sad - story of what it meant to be a Depression-era woman living in poverty.
When I first read this book, I was extremely pregnant and confined to my bed. Cean, the main character, is a supreme force of womanhood in every possible sense of the phrase. Reading about this busy and industrious mother-of-many while laying flat on my back made me feel supremely lazy. The level of energy and labor it takes to run a rural household is not for the faint of heart. Despite being a big fan of all the shiny appliances of modern convenience, I was definitely intrigued by the mundane details of her day to day existence. The process of watching a big girl turn into a little woman with a home of her own was fascinating. Imagine a world without Wal-Mart or Target where every piece of your household has to be furnished from scratch and often needs to planned months ahead of time to keep everyone properly clothed and fed. Never mind the tedium of washing clothes by hand; She had to MAKE the clothes too. Most would be crushed by the pressure but her motivation against procrastination was... death.