Author: Jetta Carleton
Genre: Fiction (Southern US / 1940s / Male-Female Friendships / Ozarks / WWII / College Life)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (3/6/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: In less than four hours
One-sentence summary: A young woman becomes a college teacher in 1940s Missouri where she befriends two of her students and learns some bitter lessons of her own.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z Books
Do I like the cover?: I love it -- I think it's super pretty. I don't think it wholly fits the novel, though.
I'm reminded of...: Alan Bennett, Melanie Benjamin, Ellen Feldman
First line: Allen Liles is a fictional character.
Does... my copy have extensive tabbing and bookmarks of fantastic passages and quotes?: YES. The language is just so...it's pragmatic and pretty at the same time. Nothing fancy, but moving. Writing for language lovers!
Am... I kind of obsessed with Jetta Carelton now?: YES. I want to read The Moonflower Vine and learn more about her
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- a delightful, moving read!
Why did I get this book?: The cover and the 1904s setting.
Review: Bittersweet. That's the lingering taste of this book, rich and redolent, and when I finished, I kind of wanted to spend the rest of my Sunday in a Claire de Lune-stupor, rereading the lovely passages and wallowing in the satisfyingly sad/happy mood of the novel.
Hope, optimism, and innocence are themes of this book, along with passion, delight in literature, and the joy of finding kindred souls. Barbara Allen Liles -- called Allen -- becomes a teacher at a junior college in an unnamed town in southwestern Missouri. ("It is an orderly town, bred of the mines, nurtured by agriculture and some manufacture, a blend of Southern gentility and Western enterprise, firmly set in the conservatism of Middle America.", p3) A lonely young woman with aspirations of becoming a poet or novelist in Greenwich Village, Allen finds herself captivated, enamored of, and charmed by two of her students, George and Toby. Surrounded by the shadow of the war in Europe, Allen's constrained life as a teachers seems somewhat bearable with George and Toby in her life.
I really expected a basic love triangle with this story, but Carleton sets up something even more challenging to navigate through: male-female friendship and teacher-student relationships. In an era when women were held up to a different standard than men, Allen's actions are judged without interest or concern in her feelings or motivations. Her colleagues and acquaintances see and expect one thing from Allen, who has the mantle of 'teacher', and with that, some perception of power. It was fascinating, frustrating, and heartbreaking to read -- I so empathize and liked Allen -- and made even more nuanced by the fact that there isn't a clear and handy villain in all this.
I don't know if this is a historical novel; while set in 1941, I don't know when Carleton wrote this novel. It was recently discovered and published by Harper Perennial, and will include their P.S. section with interviews, 'insights', and more.
This is a skinny novel -- just about 300 pages -- and it can read fast or slow, depending on whether you have the patience to linger or (like me) rush through to the giddy, glorious, delicious end. I think fans of WWII novels will enjoy this not-quite-war novel, and anyone who enjoys a good heroine and ambiguous moral situations will find much to chew on in this book.
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