Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Audio --New England Days by Sarah Orne Jewett

I've been trying to acquaint myself with as many Maine authors as possible (we have almost 100 in our little town library) and stumbled across this one on the state's audio download list. It is actually a collection of some of Jewett's best. There are 8 stand alone stories set mostly in Maine, many of them featuring 'old' (or as we pc people now say 'chronologically advantaged') women and how they dealt with the hardships of either widowhood, or spinsterhood. Many highlighted how their fellow townspeople helped out. One story "Flight of Betsy Lane" features 3 woman who are living in the 'poorhouse' ---an actual instutituion that existed here in Maine until 1977 (I looked it up!). One of them (Miss Lane) is visited by an old friend who gives her some money. She neglects to tell the town selectmen about her good luck (shades of early welfare fraud?), nor does she share the news with her friends. Instead, one mornin' she ups and walks off -- she wanted to go see the exposition in Phillie. Those left behind begin to believe she may well have 'done herself in.' When she returns, with small gifts for each of them, she brings enough wonder and stories of what she saw to keep them all in gossip for at least a lifetime. The last story, "The Hilton's Holiday", almost made me cry. It is the story of a couple who have a barebones existence on a farm, whose only son, who would have been expected to help out and do the hard work with the father, had died. The Hiltons however, instead of bemoaning their bad luck, were thankful for and accepted, nurtured and valued their daughters. In fact, Mr. Hilton decides the girls need a little vacation, so he hitches up the wagon and takes them to town (17 miles away!) for a day of sights, treats , and just enjoying a day off from chores with their dad. The fact that he was able to show off his girls made it a great trip for dad too. Many years ago, my dad drove me and 5 of my friends to high school (I went to private school so there was no bus) every day and that time we spent together was precious beyond words. This story brought it all back. So well written, and exceptionally well narrated, it just made you ache for the simple life and people who could live with so little and still be happy.


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