This collection is a treasure trove of delightful stories, each with their own strong message. Like Sarah Orne Jewett, in particular the collection
of her short stories entitled A White Heron and Other Stories, Wilkins Freeman writes about New England country folk, capturing
their habits and colloquialisms to a tee. As does Jewett, she has a distinct insight and gift for portraying the elderly, and the lives of single women, (Wilkins
Freeman herself did not marry until age 50 (1902). At that point she was already a successful writer. The Note in the Dover edition states "Her husband
was institutionalized in 1919 as an alcoholic and the marriage ended in acrimony."
Unlike Jewett's stories, however, these are more lively and compelling. Jewett's writing is very slow moving, and though interesting and much more subtle, is more enjoyable if read in smaller increments. Wilkins Freeman's writing, however, pushes one forward to the conclusion. We become interested in the characters and want to know how it all turns out. Her female heroines are strong and self-sufficient free-thinkers, (often juxtaposed with a weak or conventional female(s), who sometimes learns a lesson by example. These stories are filled with wry humor and sometimes sadness, but they all expand one's mental horizon. Eight stories are included in this collection. Here is a brief commentary on each one.
The Revolt of "Mother" is about a woman, Sarah Penn, married forty years, whose husband, Adoniram, had promised her a new house way back then. She has just noticed that the hired hands have begun digging a foundation for something, and her husband won't tell her what. But she finds out. It is for yet another new barn. She demands her husband sit and listen to her, and she laments the tiny house she has lived in all these years, barely big enough for the family, and now Nanny is to be married, and where will she bring her husband's family? Adoniram brushes her off. But she has had enough, and when her brother unexpectedly calls her husband out of town about a new horse, Sarah makes some major changes. When he returns, he finds a big surprise!!
Gentian is a comical and bittersweet story of some very stubborn old people. Hannah is walking to her sister Lucy's house to deliver some hotcakes because Lucy's husband Alferd has been sick. Hannah is not married, and is strong and self sufficient. She tells Lucy to give Alferd some bitters—gentian—and he will get well. Lucy says he refuses, but he becomes so ill that she sneaks off to the druggist for gentian and slips it into his tea and food. He complains of bitterness, but she tells him it is just his taste. But soon he is much better, up and around. It is now Lucy who is consumed with guilt, and she finally confesses about the gentian. Alferd is infuriated, and won't eat her cooking any more, and doesn't even want her around. After fifty years of marriage, she leaves him and moves in with Hannah.
A New England Nun tells the story of a Louisa, who has waited fourteen years for her betrothed, Joe Dagget, to return from Australia. Making his fortune has taken much longer than he expected, and though they have been faithful to each other, much has changed. Louisa has fallen in love with her independence and become set in her ways. But will they still marry?
One Good Time is quite humorous. Richard Stone has passed away, leaving his wife and daughter with a "fortune" of fifteen hundred dollars in life insurance. Everyone expects Narcissa to finally marry her longtime sweetheart, William Crane, but after the funeral, she announces that she has never had anything she's ever wanted or done anything fun. Her whole life has been one of drudgery on the farm, and before she marries, she wants to have one good time. She is taking her mother to New York, and intends to return in about a year, and put whatever money is left in the bank. She says she will marry William when she returns, but if he wants to marry another, she will understand. But what actually ends up happening to these two country bumpkins in the big city will make you laugh.
The Apple-Tree is an acerbic tale of how different people perceive poverty and toil. This one will make you think!
The Butterfly is a poignant tale about Viola, who is nineteen and splits up her year, spending half with her mother and half with her father. She loves them both dearly and we meet her as she arrives home to her father. He has gone all out to prepare everything to be perfect, and she notices and is thrilled with all his efforts. Her father adores her, and she has always hoped, after all these years, that her parents would reunite.. But they won't and she finally learns the reason why.
Old Woman Magoun is the only story that is really sad. Magoun is a very strong and powerful woman who has been raising her granddaughter, Lily, after her daughter died shortly after Lily's birth. Though Lily is fourteen, she still appears to be a young child. But something is going to happen, and Old Woman Magoun must commit a terrible act in order to prevent a life of suffering for her beloved child.
The Selfishness of Amelia Lamkinis a very tongue-in-cheek tale about a mother who "selfishly" insists on doing all the work to take care of her family. But it has worn her down, and one day she collapses from exhaustion. Her family fears she may not recover, and everyone experiences a personal transformation. Meanwhile, as her family watches their mother lie for months seemingly unconscious, she, on the other hand is enjoying blissful nothingness, finally a complete release of her responsibilities. This was my favorite of the eight and is quite clever.
These short tales are little gems, well constructed, and all making a point to ponder. Very entertaining and highly recommended.
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