I blame my grandmother. When I lay sick with measles in a darkened room, she read to me. And she read books from her girlhood -- at the turn of the previous century. And when I could once again read for myself, I devoured all her girlhood books -- Little Women, An Old Fashioned Girl, Aunt Jane's Nieces, Freckles, Girl of the Limberlost, and, as they say, many more. It never occurred to me in the reading that these were period pieces -- the characters seemed as real and as engaging as any people I knew.
So, in a way, I'm still quite at home in those times. Recently, on reading an article about Booth Tarkington in theNew Yorker (HERE), I was inspired to read more of his work, in spite of the article's sometimes disparaging tone. I'd long been a fan of Seventeen and Penrod (meaning I've read and reread them) but though I had a copy of Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning Alice Adams, I didn't remember reading it. I may have done for an American Lit class almost sixty years ago -- which could account for its presence among my books. What a pleasant surprise! I was entranced by the story and read eagerly, wanting to find out what happened to Alice. And I realized that what it was, was a novel of manners -- not unlike Jane Austen. Wikipedia defines a novel of manners as: "a work of fiction that recreates a social world, conveying with finely detailed observation the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed and complex society." Whether it's Austen's home life of the English gentry in the 19th century, or Updike's trenchant skewering of the American suburbs of the mid-20th century, or Tarkington's astute depiction of middle-class life in early 1900's Mid-West, to me, it's like time travel. And, in well done novels, an excellent mirror of parts of society at certain times. I moved on to The Turmoil -- also on my shelves. My copy, probably from a library book sale, has on its inside page "Norma Weaver--1917." I hope she enjoyed it as much as I am. I had to force myself to put it down in order to write this post.
Wheel of Mystery -- one of the names given to this quilt pattern of interlocking circles. I pieced my quilt by hand, some years ago, working at it on the days when I was helping to care for a friend whose mind was slipping into dementia. She still enjoyed quilting and we would sit companionably, talking of this and that as she quilted simple projects I had prepared for her and I hand-pieced these curving bits of blue and white. During those quiet moments, it was almost as if nothing had changed.
My friend is gone now but I think of her often. Every time I look at the quilt I realize how our lives were somehow interlocked, just like this pattern.
We met in 1960 during our freshman year of college at Emory University. She lived across the hall from me in our dorm and we were drawn together by the fact that we were both named Vicki (though hers was spelled with a y) and we both had boy friends (whom we desperately missed) at other colleges. Her name, in all its glory, was Victoria Felicia Thorogood -- a lot of name for a little person who barely came up to my shoulder. (Mine was only Vicki Lane -- no Victoria, no middle name. I felt cheated.) I transferred to the University of Florida the next year, to be with that boyfriend of mine. She stayed at Emory another year, then married her boyfriend (I caught the bouquet), and the two of them went to France to study. In 1963 I married my boyfriend and the Marines and graduate school and teaching took us various places. But through all of this, Vicki and Vicky stayed in touch by letters. When in 1973 my husband and I with our year-old son set out to find a new place to live -- Canada or upper New York state were options -- I wanted to stop and visit my friend as we made our way north. She and her husband and their little boy had moved the year before to a farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We came; we saw; we fell in love with the mountains. Before a month had gone by we had bought the farm that is the inspiration for Elizabeth's Full Circle Farm. It was Vicky who introduced me to a little old lady called Miss Birdie; it was Vicky's husband who told me the story that inspired the Little Sylvie story. Our sons went to school together, our husbands butchered pigs together, Vicky and I swapped work with gardens and canning and quilting. We should have become old ladies together.
I look at the quilt up close -- looking for meaning. All the bits and pieces fit together into an ever-expanding, always linked pattern. It shifts as I look at it -- constantly changing but always remaining the same.
...which is pretty much all I've been doing for the past two weeks -- along with keeping Josie two and three days a week. (I'm using Josie pics for this post because pics of me editing would be pretty dull.) I've been editing 60 pages a week for my class along with doing a read through of my 334 page novel (actually, I did it twice) in response to my editor's line edits--I needed to accept or reject them.
This was my last chance to to tweak sentences and improve word choice. After this, if I want to make changes (other than typos or compositor errors, it will cost me.) This is standard industry practice and makes sense. Because, alas, it's always the case that another read-through will reveal things the writer wishes she'd done differently. This time, in spite of the fact that I've probably read through the novel twenty times, tweaking merrily as I went, I still found things to improve-- places to eliminate unnecessary words, to fix repetitions, to double check against some possible anachronisms.
I think that since I've been editing class work for several months now, my editorial eye was sharper and more attuned to really picky details. As I always tell the folks in my critique classes, editing other people's work will make you a better editor of your own stuff. And for a bonus, I finally came up with a closing couple of sentences I like. On every previous read, I'd questioned my choice of words there. What happens at the end hasn't changed but I think the words are better. And I'm really pleased with the novel as a whole. I love most of the characters and those that I don't, I at least have some sympathy for. They have become incredibly real to me.
I felt like celebrating when I hit SEND late Thursday night and returned the manuscript to the editor. Now a proofreader will go through it and eventually, so will I again. Meanwhile, I've got forty more pages to edit for class next Thursday, after which I can lay down the electronic red pencil and think about things like Christmas gifts and Thanksgiving food. And all those cobwebs lurking in corners and under chairs. Now that Halloween's past, I can't claim them as decorations any more.
I recently re-read Brave New World, Huxley’s
dystopian vision of a future in which humanity is managed to produce an optimum
number of various classes to fulfill various functions. At the bottom are the
Epsilons – capable of little more than serving as an elevator operator but
programmed to be happy in that function.
Then this morning, I heard on NPR a snippet of a program. Climate
change, it said, is projected to have the effect on the world's population of
lowering life expectancy and intelligence—children’s brains don’t develop well
in conditions like famine and pollution. (See Flint, Michigan. See also THIS article.)
And it occurred to me--perhaps those plutocrats who are pushing the horrific policies of the Republican Party—gutting environmental protections to boost corporate earnings--are playing the long game here, as surely as the managers of Huxley’s future poison the Epsilons in (artificial)utero to stunt their development.
Safe in their climate-controlled gilded towers, the plutocrats don’t fear the effects of climate change. Their children will always eat well. And if the masses grow slowly weaker and dumber and even more malleable, well, someone has to clean those gilded towers and service those air-conditioners. And Fox News can be relied upon to tell the masses how very happy they are, in this brave new world.
I zoomed through this book, lent me by one of my book pusher friends. It boasts two good hooks: The Pack Horse librarians of Depression-era Kentucky, intrepid women funded by the WPA who traveled the hills and hollers on horseback, bringing books to isolated homes and schools, and the strange Blue People of Kentucky, a tiny group suffering from a genetic disorder that turns their skin blue. Either group is interesting enough for a novel, but here we have a Pack Horse Librarian who is a Blue.
The novel is chock-full of fascinating folk ways and historical detail. Plus there's an admirable young woman, fighting to make her way in the world--a world that counts her as "colored" and abnormal. There's a love story too...
A good read on a chilly day. And a good reminder of the discrimination and unequal treatment women, in general, and people of color, in particular, have always faced.
All images and content are subject to copyright and are the sole property of Vicki Lane Mysteries. If you would like to use something from my blog on your blog or website, please email me and ask first. I'll probably say yes.