Book Reviews

Yonnondio: From the Thirties by Tillie Olsen (1974)

Yonnondio: From the Thirties is a fragment of a novel that Tillie Olsen (best known for Tell Me a Riddle) began at age 19, in the 1930s, and then abandoned for decades as she worked to earn a living and raised four daughters. In 1974, it was published as an unfinished work. It’s the story of the Holbrooks, a struggling working-class family, moving about the western and middle western U.S. in search of a living.

This novel is considered experimental and somewhat autobiographical, and explores themes of class and family (specifically motherhood). It also nods to the socialist views of Olsen and her family of origin. Here are two reviews taking the long view of the work, from when it appeared in 1974. The title, Yonnondio, means lament for the lost, and was the title of a poem by Walt Whitman. Read More→

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Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead (1947) – a review

The Australian government refuse to import Letty Fox : Her Luck by native Aussie Christina Stead  (best known for The Man Who Loved Children) after this novel’s 1947 publication. It was declared “salacious” and “obscene.” A frank and witty coming of age story set between the Great Depression and World War II, this banned book didn’t meet much favor in the Australian press, either. Here’s one such review, which panned the novel thoroughly:

From the original review of Letty Fox: Her Luck in the Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales, Australia, March 1947: Australian Christina Stead, in her eighth book, takes as her chief character Letty Fox, daughter of an actress mother and a charmingly shiftless father, and puts her through the hoops of indignantly self-justified immorality.

The Fox family, to which is allied the family of the Morgans by marriage, is a collection of eccentrics. So is the Morgan family. The two families apparently think of only two or three things: money comes first, then sex, then food, and having a good time. Read More→

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The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold (1951)

It’s widely believed that Lady Ruby MacLean, the protagonist of The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold was based on real-life Lady Diana Cooper, a famous socialite of the early 20th century. Nancy Mitford also drew inspiration from Lady Cooper for Don’t Tell Alfred.

Though the book doesn’t much resonate with contemporary readers,  it was apparently enjoyed by a previous generation, and stands firmly in Bagnold’s modest canon. Lady Maclean is the character through which the theme of aging is explored, in particular, how it affects a beauty who is, as the title implies, loved and envied.  Following is an enthusiastic review from its time; for contrast, see this contemporary review in Girl Walks into a Bookstore.

From the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle review, February, 1951: Enid Bagnold’s The Loved and Envied was an emotional experience for me. I felt the same charged excitement as when I read Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, saw South Pacific soon after its opening, saw Death of a Salesman. There is the satisfaction of a thing well done — in this case, a good story, an unusual story, well told.

I have read three of the four books Miss Bagnold has written — National Velvet, probably her most popular; Door of Life, an unusual description of the experiences of pregnancy; and the book discussed here, The Loved and Envied. They are all enormously different but extremely fine. Needless to say, I intend to read the fourth, Serena Blandish. Read More→

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Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset (1928): An analysis

Jessie Redmon Fauset was an American editor, poet, essayist, and novelist associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Her eight-year tenure as the literary editor of the influential Crisis magazine was impressively productive, helping to launch the careers of a number of iconic writers of the era. She had only four novels published, though her output of shorter works was quite prodigious. Plum Bun (1928) was one of four novels Fauset produced, along with There is Confusion (1924), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy, American Style (1933). 

Plum Bun is the story of Angela Murray, a young mixed-race woman who moves to New York City after her parents’ death. To the small but persistent canon of “passing” novels of the era, Fauset added this one. Angela decides to try to live as a white woman, only to discover that it is a life on the other side of what was then called “the color line” also had its share of pitfalls. Creativity became the greater source of satisfaction for the protagonist. Read More→

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Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara (1963)

From the original review of Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara in The Fresno Bee (CA), April, 1963:  From diaries based on the 10 years spent with her second husband at their Wyoming ranch — and out of which came her famous stories, My Friend Flicka and ThunderheadMary O’Hara now gives us in journal form an account of a typical summer.

In describing that life, Mary O’Hara reveals much of herself. “See here, do you know what’s up there? On the top? do you know that size and emptiness an that blazing incredible beauty? Do you know that you can draw a deep breath and take it into yourself and be swept clean of small crawling miseries? But you can live in it all the time. It’s too big, too epic, and much too lonely.” Read More→

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