I read Fidelity a while ago and absolutely loved it…it haunted me and left me feeling a bit emotionally drained, which was quite unexpected. I had never read any Susan Glaspell before so it took me by surprise to discover that all of her work apart from what Persephone reprints is out of print, as she was, quite simply, an outstanding writer.
So, when I found Brook Evans in a charity shop I pounced on it. It joined the to be read pile and last week it finally got its moment in the sun. Or in the dreariness really, as summer disappeared last week and still hasn’t returned. The joy of English summers.
Anyway, I read it in a few days, and it knocked me sideways. Susan Glaspell has a way of ripping people open and exposing them to their very cores that makes you feel stunned and uncomfortable yet hopelessly transfixed by them and their fate. Their souls become tangible and the rawness and honesty and pain is wonderful. I love it.
In a nutshell Brook Evans tells the story of three generations of a family, shaped by love and the lack of it, moulded by the pain of one woman’s loss and one man’s sacrifice. The book starts with Naomi Kellogg, an Illinois farmer’s daughter, being courted by the boy across the way, Joe Copeland. His mother thinks she is not good enough for him, so they see each other in secret by the brook that separates their parents’ land. Joe is tragically killed shortly after, leaving Naomi pregnant. A local, overly religious man, Caleb Evans, who is held in high regard by the townspeople and Naomi’s distraught parents, agrees to marry Naomi, because he loves her, and take her out west to Colorado to start a new life and give her and her child respectability. Naomi, wracked with grief and filled with hatred towards Caleb, goes on to give birth to a daughter, Brook. The story then goes on to relate Brook’s life and how she turns away from her mother, unable to understand her bitterness and belief that love is everything, leaving her forever when she is just 19. Going on to forge a life of her own, she only realises when she is a mother herself and discovering real love after a lifetime of dutiful wifehood, what a life of loneliness and unfulfilment her mother was trying to rescue her from in attempting to give her a chance at real love.
It’s powerful and emotional and desperately, desperately sad…especially towards the end, when Brook is filled with regret towards the way she treated her now dead mother. It is similar to Fidelity in that it shows Glaspell’s obvious belief that love was the ultimate prize in life and that nothing should stand in its way; a life without love, once love is known, is a life of bitterness and yearning for a happiness that will never come again; a life without love, when love has never been known, is always going to be a life of unfulfilment and an unknowing emptiness.
If you can handle the bleak yet beautifulness, then read it. I managed to snag a copy of Prodigal Giver, which I believe has a different title in the US, off ebay a while back so I can’t wait to get stuck into that when I am ready to be battered by Glaspell’s painful prose again.