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The delightful Claire over at Paperback Reader was my Persephone Secret Santa. Even before I unwrapped the package I was excited seeing that Claire was my Secret Santa because she is a voracious commenter and she and I have had some fun and informative exchanges over the past few months on both of our blogs.
My Persephone History
I am fairly new to the world of Persephone Books having only heard about them earlier this year and receiving my first order less than two months ago. My husband takes an aesthetic interest in these wonderfully beautiful books and has redubbed them Perstephones. So now it is common for both of us to add that interior “t” when referring to them.
My “Dot” System
When I first got the Persephone catalog I went through with a marker and made dots on each title according to how interested I was in each book. Five dots meant I was really interested, and those titles so marked, ended up being my first order of twelve books. Four dots meant I was pretty interested but could wait until the second round of ordering once I finished the first twelve. Three dots indicated a strong interest but it would probably be a while before I got around to buying them.
Claire’s Choice for Me
Well Claire bought me a three dot title. And having now read it, I couldn’t be happier. And it makes me hope that all my five dots are as wonderful. (Having already read Julia Strachey’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding--a five dotter--I already know that that isn’t the case.) Being a bit of a control freak, when I signed up with Book Psmith to participate in this Persephone Secret Santa, my inclination was to give a list of titles that I wanted. But therapy seems to be working so I decided to throw caution to the wind and let my Secret Santa have an open playing field (except for the ones I already owned). I am so glad I did, because Claire’s choice was perfect.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher
First off, DON’T read too much of the catalog description of this one. Thankfully I didn’t remember anything about it so all of the plot twists were a surprise to me. I don’t think reading the catalog blurb would ruin your experience, but I do think it has unnecessary spoilers.
The Home-Maker is the story of Evangaline Knapp and her family. And let me tell you she is one uptight home-maker. Always harping on kids and husband, never happy with anything. To be honest, I identified with her quite a bit, and not in a positive way. I saw in her all of the behavioral traits that I have been trying to modify in myself (with some success I may add). Her husband Lester is a frustrated poet working in accounts at the local department store. The kids are perpetually afraid of their mother. The neighbors alternate between helpful and judgmental.
And then stuff happens. (No spoilers here.) A little bit of tragedy. A little bit of transformation. A surprise twist or two.
I loved this book because:
- It had great, interesting characters. And although some are portrayed at times as heroes or antiheroes, none of the main characters are so one dimensional as to get stuck in either rut.
- I love a good transformation story and this one had plenty to make me happy.
- There are extended scenes about Evangeline finding her niche and being uber-organized and driven to excellence. A woman after my own heart.
- It deals with some interesting gender issues that seem ahead of their time. These issues and their resolution also made me sad for the characters who had to endure 1924 gender roles that were antithetical to their happiness. It also made me a bit sad that, although things have changed greatly since 1924, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Often discussions of gender roles play out in terms of women’s roles in society, and I truly understand that women have not come close to reaching true parity with men in the workforce. But I think women today have emotional access to non-traditional gender roles in ways that men still don’t. Feel free to correct me if you think I am overstating the case, but in my experience the label “tom-boy” for a girl does not carry the same shaming sting that “sissy” carries for a boy. I have long thought that it all boils down to misogyny in any case. Traditional female roles have been so denigrated as second class or menial for so long that any male who would somehow identify with those roles or choose a “female” vocation is suspect at best and violently reviled at worst. Yes, all of this springs from this ultimately charming story written in 1924.