Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I just finished one more of Bess Streeter Aldrich's books - "A Lantern in Her Hand".  This is the prequel (only to me because I read the latter book first) to "A White Bird Flying", the story of the settling of the Nebraska prairie  which follows Abbie Mackenzie Deal, from her childhood to her death. 

One of the repeated ideas throughout the story is that you cannot stop the clock.  Time is like a wind blowing and it takes you where it will.  It will not stop even for a moment so you can think, just think without being rushed and pushed.  At many pivotal events in Abbie's life, she wants to stop the clock for just a moment to decide if where events are leading is what she wants, and, of course, she cannot - none of us can do that. 

The relentlessness of time has always been a painful fact to me.  In the diary my mother gave me for Christmas when I was 15 years old, I wrote on the opening page, wondering what I'd be doing in 20 years from that moment, a hopelessly long time away, I thought.  I described the sounds of the clock in the kitchen, the night winter cold outside my bedroom windows and wondered where I'd be when I was 35.  I am now 54 and time just keeps going faster and faster. 

The one thing that bothered me a bit about this story is that none of Abbie's children seem to appreciate her as they should.  They seem somewhat selfish as they become adults and follow their dreams, dreams that Abbie had to forego for herself because, between children and trying to survive in a new land, there was never time or money to pursue them.  Young, pre-marriage Abbie has a beautiful singing voice and cannot get enough information about her legendary, aristocratic ancestor, Isabella, from Scotland.  She promises herself that she will accomplish great things and her chief daydream is to slip off to a private knoll and pretend she is performing for a vast audience.  The real outcome of her life's choices is quite different.

I would have liked to see at least one of Abbie's children hold her in reverence, want to hear her settlement days stories, not think she is just old fashioned and that her reminiscences have no value.  Luckily, her granddaughter, Laura, makes up for the other disappointments.  She and her grandmother are soul mates, in a way, and Laura is a balm to Abbie's soul in her last few years. 

The writing, as usual, is lyrical and lovely, almost painfully beautiful.   I find that my own thinking is much like that of the main character, Abbie, and I have to say, for myself, that I cannot just read a string of Bess Streeter Aldrich books one after the other.  They are so emotional and so much like my own painful reflections about time that I have to put the book down and seek something cheerful to take my mind off the brevity of life as accurately portrayed in the stories.

I'm prone to sadness anyway, so, as beautiful as Bess Streeter Aldrich's books are, I have to take them in between doses of, say, Grace Livingston Hill or other light fluff where there is a happy ending.  I don't think everyone will have the same reaction as I do - her books were best sellers when they first came out, and one of them, "Miss Bishop", was made into a movie in 1941 called, "Cheers for Miss Bishop", many parts of which could be termed, "tear jerker".  The movie does capture some of the luminescence of the book. 


Unknown said...

I totally understand the need to make spaces between the serious and emotional with fluff - I too need to do the same thing - it's also related to the fact that I like being sociable and being with people, but I also MUST have large swatches of time where I am in my own space, usually alone doing my own thing. It's like I need to retreat, regroup, then I'm back . . .

Susan Humeston said...

If I read a string of Aldrich books in a row, I'd need counseling. I always used to joke that Hans Christian Anderson needed counseling because all his stories were literally heart breaking. The Steadfast Tin Soldier? Just let me fall on a knife!!