Ellen Glasgow – In This Our Life

in this our life

It is a rainy evening here in our new surroundings. My wife, Sam, is not home yet from work and I have the luxury of reading until my eyes are too heavy to concentrate on the words in front of me. I made a great push to finish this work today. I may have read something like 180 pages today which is a lot for me as I have chronicled often my slower reading pace than Drew. The drive home from my parents’ house was a pleasant drive. I did some reading there as I was finishing my laundry and preparing food for my family. I try to go out there a couple of times a week to help my mom take care of my brother. I did the dishes, and cooked dinner. Many of the mishaps that are portrayed in this book are nearer the truth than I would have otherwise thought. A constant theme that runs through the chronicling of our experiences with these books is what Drew and I have encountered during our time doing this project. Drew is nearing the end swiftly. I am a few books behind him, but I think that I can catch up to him by the end of the year. A lot has changed in our lives over the course of this project. My family has encountered a great mishap as the Glasgow’s family of characters does in her work. I may not have been able to follow the series of events that this family encounters had not my family went through its own concerns of the last few years. I do not need to retell that tale here, wait for the memoir, but suffice it to say that the impulse that thrives through the veins of this novel are true and are pictured well. In the midst of tragedy, it seems the likeliest place those very close to the events, but not directly affected by them try through their teeth to make sense of the events as they unfold. We have so many questions, and so few answers and the only refrain we can even strive for us – just wait – just wait – it will all make sense in time. My family is still not out of the woods of our great conflict, but it may make sense sooner than I thought though it does not necessarily make sense now.

What Glasgow gets right in this novel is that things don’t often make sense, especially not at the time. Glasgow’s book is quite progressive to focus in on a non-religious family in the South at the precipice of World War II. There may not have been many of those folks in the South. Glasgow relates to these characters well, and draws out their difficulty in forming some semblance of meaning for them in their new reality as ‘faithless’ people searching for meaning in a place that has traditions of meaning that they do not feel comfortable with. The main conflict of this book isn’t with its characters but with Glasgow groping for grounding in a changing world. She tries to tie together the strands of different ropes with her constant philosophizing the differences in the generations. This is a difficult task to not sound preachy about one or the other generation. She does not succeed at this. She is too preoccupied with being the ‘prophet of her age’ to quote Richard Ford’s Independence Day. Many times I was more interested in how the characters would react to some new event, but instead we got Glasgow’s voice overshadowing her own characters.

There is a lot of tell in this book, and it is light on show often. We have characters going through unusual events and then a lot of dialogue about how they are going to wrestle with those events. Glasgow seems bent on having much of her drama happen off the page, and then recounting those events to us through a certain character and then the rest of the family has a debate about what those events mean. I do not if this is a poison of her time in writing that she couldn’t dramatize those ‘horrific’ events in literature due to decorum or not, but it hurts the work. One of the final scenes in which Roy meets a strange man on the street goes the PG way when she comes to some new understanding that doesn’t really even make a lot of sense, and then she walks out a new woman. This was unfortunately one of the least believable scenes in the book, and leaves the worst taste in my mouth. It doesn’t tarnish many of the good moments in the book, but I was disappointed with the main moment of Roy’s, presumably the main character, mono mythic type journey into the underworld/return with new knowledge took place in one chapter in a chance encounter on the street with an unnamed man who falls asleep in her presence giving her the easiest get away of all time. Nevertheless, I wasn’t completely displeased with the book. Glasgow is a great writer who unfortunately is preoccupied with telling us how it is instead of giving us a great story to demonstrate how things are. On to the next book.


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