Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November Reads II - Part Two

Jacqueline Winspear is an author I've come to admire by reading her Maisie Dobbs books - only two of which (or three* depending upon how you count), our library has. Winspear's seventh Maisie Dobbs novel, The Mapping of Love and Death, was the one I had previously read.
This month I read the other book the library has of hers which is really her first two novels* combined in one volume. The first, Maisie Dobbs, introduces us to this psychologist and investigator as she hangs out her shingle on her own for the first time. The year is 1929. Her first job of inquiry is a seemingly tedious one of suspected infidelity.
When the assignment turns into one involving murder, Maisie is forced to remember her own time during WWI and confront the horrors she has tried so hard to forget.
Interwoven throughout the book is Maisie's early years growing up without a mother; with a father doing what he considers his best for her by getting her a job in service as a maid for a wealthy family when she is only thirteen, and how she becomes the protege of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a renowned Scotland Yard consultant with whom Maisie has apprenticed until his retirement.

The second part of the book - Winspear's second novel - is Birds of a Feather. An eventful year has passed since Maisie started her own one-woman private investigation agency. Her successes have allowed her to move into more comfortable and professional offices in Fitzroy Square. She has also acquired an assistant - the cheerful Billy Beale.
The year is 1930. Maisie has been summoned by a wealthy, autocratic businessman to find his runaway daughter. As Ms. Dobbs delves into the background of the missing woman, she finds a connection between her and three other young women who have been murdered. The chilling link also involves the terrible legacy of The Great War.
Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels are well-researched and give insights into the despair that lingered during the "lost generation" era. She informs us of Maisie's own struggle to deal with a love lost in a battlefront surgical tent. Birds of a Feather ends with Maisie deciding between two possible suitors. I'm going to be searching the used book store for books three, four, five and six in this series as well as looking forward to any that come after the already read book seven.

Kent Haruf is another favourite author. The Tie That Binds was his first published work. I have previously read Plainsong and Eventide and watched the Hallmark Movie version of Plainsong. (A younger America Ferrara [later to be Ugly Betty] had the roll of Victoria Roubidoux, the pregnant 17-year old Native American girl.)

The Tie That Binds is set in the dry American High Plains of Holt County, Colorado. It begins with eighty-year-old Edith Goodnough lying in a hospital bed, IV line taped to the back of her hand, police officer outside her door. She has been charged with murder. The tragedies of Edith's life are narrated by her neighbor. It is a tale of a childhood of pre-dawn chores, the early death of the mother and a violent accident that leaves the enraged father dependent upon his children.
It is the story of a woman who sacrifices her life and happiness for the sake of the family and then in one act, reclaims her freedom.
I read this book with empathy - somewhat familiar with the arduous demands of farm life during the thirties and forties. As the Edith of this book was trapped in the care taking of first her father and then her brother, I could not help but think about the real life Edith from the neighborhood in which I grew up.
I do not remember that Edith. I only remember my Mom telling me about her and how she hanged herself in the basement of the farm home she shared with two of her bachelor brothers. No one seemed to know the reason for her suicide. One theory was that she was in love with someone but could not marry because her father's will forbade any of the children to marry - had she married, she would lose her inheritance.
After reading this book and thinking about it, that theory doesn't hold up - she lost any inheritance by taking her life. I find it much more likely that the ending of her own life was more like the book Edith's act - one of despair over a lifetime of care taking. A life no longer bearable.

Haruf has at least one more book I haven't read. I'll be on the look out for it, too.

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