This is the story of Lester and Eva Knapp, married with 3 children, Helen, Henry and Stephen who are trying to live a life by the correct domestic conformity and live in a perfect world. However everything is not perfect in this domestic setting and Dorothy Canfield Fisher constructs a story where everything that is held to be the correct way is challenged.
Eva is the perfect housewife (home -maker) she works from the moment she gets up to the moment she closes her eyes ensuring that everything is clean beyond perfection. That her children are clean, polite, controlled and her husband has a meal every day when he comes home from work after having a breakfast to send him on his way in the morning. To outsiders Eva is conforming, to Eva she is fighting a battle with all things domestic and motherly and this strive for perfection is affecting her children and her husband. To me it came across as Eva was sanitising life for everyone including herself.
Lester is a small cog in a machine and an insignificant one at that. In a job which he despises, this brings in little money and where he is not liked. His days are spent dreaming of the literature he loves and misses from giving up university to marry young. His nights are dreary and he wishes in simple terms that he was not on this earth.
Then everything an accident changes and roles are reversed. Eva now becomes a cog in a machine working at the local Emporium where Lester had previously been made redundant from. Eva suddenly finds her niche and that small cog becomes a much larger one and suddenly she feels she has a purpose and a belonging and achieving something. Lester on the other hand has to face up to his lengthy disability, with that becomes an epiphany moment when he becomes the home-maker. All of sudden, everything is not so clean, the children are allowed to run free uncontrolled and share in the love that their father obviously has the capacity to give. All of a sudden the stage where Eva worked before becomes a home.
They all learn together to adjust to their new circumstances and also those around her from her days when she was an important part of the Ladies Guild have to learn to adjust. They have to see Lester darning socks, making cookies and nurturing the children.
I actually did not like the characters of Eva and Lester, slightly oxymoronic perhaps considering I feel the book is excellent. Eva frustrated me in her seek of perfection and her condescending attitude towards her husband. And although I admit she did change in character slightly in the book, I still felt she had no real warmth for being a mother let along being a home-maker.
Lester is rather insipid. Before and after the accident. His only strength was he recognised something in developing his children and they blossomed into characters and personalities without being forced down a particular route. Canfield Fisher skill of creating these characters is excellent and that is why I enjoyed the book. It made you think about how life can be conducted and that perhaps fitting into stereotypes is not the path to happiness whether you are young or old. It is about finding your own path and creating your own individual stereotype.
This book resonates on many levels for me. Interestingly enough it has no time line, or place in an age gone past. Your only clue, other than the fact that it is set in America is perhaps the language that characters use. Its publication of 1924 would probably be right in its setting. However, this book is as relevant some 87 years later. You could say much has changed and that women are frequently seen in the workplace as well as still being seen as an important role model at home. There are an increasing number of male home-makers (house-husbands)but they are still the minority and considered something of a novelty. We all have ideals on who should fit into what role and how they should behave in it. Would reading this book in another 87 years time show that it is still as relevant then as it is today and all years previous since its publication?
This is the first Persephone book I have read. I picked it up with some trepidation and I did enjoy it and I hope my review does it justice. There were some elements of the book which were lost on me and I found it rather difficult to relate to being a parent. I am not. However I can relate to keeping everything clean and tidy and doing all the home-making stuff that this encompasses. The book made me aware of how I sometimes can strive for perfection in keeping everything clean, sometimes too clean and is something which my mum pulls me up on now and again and reminds me that life is too short to worry about a bit of dust.
One thing I have not done, and I am going back to do now I have read the book is read the preface by Karen Knox and I think this will tie everything in nicely for me experiencing this book and more importantly discovering an author I would not have dared pick up otherwise. Therefore I will be posting about the author tomorrow.