Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)

The Country of the Pointed Firs was all talk and conversation and storytelling.  I did not love it as much as Deephaven - even though this is considered Jewett's best work.  All the old critics and writers from that time had good things to say about the book - Kipling, Willa Cather, William Dean Howells, Henry James... I certainly don't have anything negative to say about the book.  I found it quietly engaging.

The haunting story of Joanna, the scorned woman who goes to live alone as a hermitess on Shell Heap Island is beautiful and gothic.  It's better because it's all told second hand, like old gossip repeated again and again and aged by the telling.  That was a brilliant part of this book.

The chapters about the Bowden reunion were also fun, but I kept waiting for a Wilder or an Ingalls or a Nelson to make a cameo appearance - alas, they never did.

I think I would have enjoyed the book better if the chaptering had been set up in a bit different way.  I've seen this described as a series of sketches, as well as a short story sequence.  Both seem to describe the book much better than calling it a novel.  I was expecting more of a narrative line, particular with numbered chapters.  I don't know, that just bothered me.


Novels and Stories: Deephaven / A Country Doctor / The Country of the Pointed Firs / Dunnet Landing Stories / Selected Stories and SketchesNovels and Stories: Deephaven / A Country Doctor / The Country of the Pointed Firs / Dunnet Landing Stories / Selected Stories and Sketches by Sarah Orne Jewett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please note that I'm reading this book in fits and starts - not because I don't like it, but because I want to savor it.  I was hesitant about the book at first, but Deephaven was a delightful start - short, sweet, romantic, sometimes painfully sad, beautiful, vivid.  Although never specifically written, it's obvious that Helen and Kate are at the very least deeply in love, and at the most a committed couple; there are many beautiful passages about them exploring, talking, laughing, listening, or just sitting together in front a fire or along the sea.  The fact that they both have chosen their stars - and have shared that fact with each other - is wonderful in all senses.  I can't recommend Deephaven enough.  I'm exciting to read more.

*****

I didn't enjoy The Country of the Pointed Firs nearly as much as I did Deephaven, even though critics from old until now have called this Jewett's best work.  The entire book is really a series of sketches or short stories, written as conversation or gossip between various people in a small Maine town called Dunnett Landing.  The very best tales are the gothic, hauntingly beautiful story of Joanna, a scorned woman who becomes in a hermit on an island off the coast.  Another more enjoyable sketch is that of the Bowden family reunion, where I half expected Pa Ingalls to make a cameo appearance (he did not).


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