Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell

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.

8 comments

  1. When I discovered Fidelity some years ago now, bought from Persephone, I was bowled over by it and it reduced me to tears. Brooke Evans is also publlished by Persephone and also another simply wonderful book. I attended the Persephone Lecture last year when elaine showalter talked about Susan Glaspell and Dorothy Canfield Fisher and it was an amazing evening. May I recommend The Homemaker by DC Fisher? It is published by Persephone and I have read it at least a dozen times, it is my favourite of all the books published by this house

  2. Ooh I wanted to go to that lecture but all places were gone by the time I got around to booking. I love The Homemaker too! When I first got it I sat on the sofa and didn't move until I'd read it all. It has to be one of my favourite Persephones. I've also read The Brimming Cup and I'm always on the lookout for more by her. A criminally underrated novelist I think!

  3. I highly recommend Glaspell's Fugitive's Return, if you can find a copy. I hope Persephone will consider reprinting it. Most of it is set in Greece (Delphi, specifically), and is wonderfully evocative and beautiful and moving. I've reviewed it on my blog, here, and was happy to see that Nicola Beauman at Persephone Books mentioned my blog post in on of her Fortnightly Letters.The Home-maker is my favorite Persephone; perhaps because I was a "stay-at-home father" for most of the 1990s while my wife pursued her academic career. The novel has personal resonance for me. I also loved her novel Seasoned Timber, and have a couple other of her novels I'm looing forward to reading.

  4. Thanks Rob – lovely and insightful post on Fugitive's Return. I'm going to have to try and find a copy once my Book Buying Amnesty is over!I love love love Dorothy Canfield and am trying without much success to collect her books – they are very difficult to track down at a reasonable price in the UK!

  5. Just read my first Persephone – Susan Glaspell’s Fidelity, which I enjoyed tremendously. Brook Evans sounds like it would be another excellent story by Glaspell. Thanks for sharing!

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