I have talked up this book so much since I first read it about fifteen years ago I was a bit afraid to re-read it. There was a time in my reading past where I had a few friends whose reading tastes I trusted without question. I was so impressionable that their favorites became my favorites. What would happen if 42-year old Thomas didn’t agree with 27-year old Thomas? Not a big deal in itself, but I have gone on about this book to so many people with such hyperbolic flair over the years that I began to worry I might be damaging my book recommendation credibility.
So when I pulled As For Me and My House off the shelf this summer to give it a re-read I was troubled over my initial inability to get into it. After about 30 pages I set it aside. And there it sat for months until, as part of my nightstand TBR pile clean-up I gave it another go. I fear that if it hadn’t been part of my clean-up efforts I might have just put it back on the shelf thinking I didn’t like it as much as I used to. And that would have been a tragedy.
I found this book as haunting, beautiful, depressing, and brilliant this time around as I did the first time. What is amazing is that, although I liked it just as much as the first time, it could have been a different book. There is so much that I didn’t remember about this 162-page novel it was like reading for the first time.
Here are some random thoughts:
- Imagine On Chesil Beach meets The Grapes of Wrath meets Main Street meets Anita Brookner.
- Smalltown, dust bowl-era Saskatchewan.
- Thirty-something, poor preacher (and frustrated artist) and his long suffering wife.
- There are no two dimensional characters in this short book. Everyone who walks across the pages is a nuanced, fully formed human. Some are good and some are evil, but none purely so.
- Written in diary format from the point of view of the wife. I think Ross does an amazing job capturing the female voice, especially for 1941. Granted, I only see this through my own male lens, but I read so much fiction by females I do feel somewhat qualified to comment. I think he paints an accurate portrait of how enforced gender roles made (and make) for some pretty miserable circumstances.
- I have harped a lot over the years about epistolary novels that include too much quoted dialogue. And in comments about other technical annoyances in a Julia Glass novel a commenter here on My Porch told me that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the technical faults if the book had been better. I think As For Me and My House proves that point. It is so well written that I didn’t even think about the dialogue quoted in the diary entries until after I had finished and was reading the introduction to edition I read. Ross does use quoted dialogue in the entries, but they didn’t bother me one bit.
- Although this a pretty darn quiet novel, there are plot points I had forgotten that really blew me away.
More people need to read this book.