One of a batch of eight rediscovered classics from Apollo. I’m lucky enough to have most of them and will be reviewing more in due course. This is a debut novel from 1934 and was written by twenty-four year old Josephine Johnson. It was a big success and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1935. Johnson was unable to recapture the critical acclaim of this despite another ten novels and her work has in recent years faded from memories. So thanks to Apollo for allowing modern readers the chance to discover this impressive work.
It is a novel rich in poetry. The narrator is fourteen years old at the start of the book. Marget arrives with her parent and two sisters to work a farm in an arid, hostile environment. The eldest sister, Kerren, is an intense, disturbed girl but is the only one who can make an escape from the farm when she commences a local teaching job. Marget and Merle are devoted to the life of the farm, although environmental conditions and a hefty mortgage ensure that it will always be a struggle to survive. Their father employs Grant, a neighbour’s son, to help out which inevitably stir emotions in the young women. In the introduction Michael Schmidt compares the novel to an Emily Bronte from a different era and continent. In “Wuthering Heights” the landscape infiltrates the novel, in this the landscape becomes the novel. There’s little joy to be found here, the cycle of the year brings its continual challenges. A birthday celebration ends tragically and even a period of plenty is dismissed because if everyone has plenty then no-one will buy. The most overwhelming challenge is drought. The novel does read like a prose poem and incidents away from the struggle on the farm are rare until the last third when a catastrophic event begins to heap tragedies upon the family.
Characterisation is strong and draws the reader in and it is a much easier read than than the above would suggest. It did have the feel of Steinbeck’s “Grapes Of Wrath” published five years later without the travelling but with Steinbeck’s ability to step back from the story at times and let the environment tell its own tale. I think a reading group would get much discussion from this. I’m looking forward to reading others in the Apollo series.
Now In November is published in 2016 by Apollo. Reviews of other books in the series by myself and others can be found on the Nudge website