The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield

Oh my. This has got to be one of my top *five* books of the year. What a delight! I’m reeling! First I would like to thank Thomas at My Porch, again, for sending me this book along with the also-lovely Some Tame Gazelle. (This was because I have cute dogs. Lucky me!) Thank you, Thomas! You did so splendidly selecting books for me.

I have a lot to say about this book and will try not to be too long-winded.

The Home-Maker is the story of the Knapp family. The mother, Evangeline, is the home-maker – of course, because how else could it possibly be done? (This book was published in the 1920’s and seems to be set about then, too.) She is efficient and hardworking, and miserable; and her three children are miserable as well, and two of them physically ill. Her husband, Lester, is a lackluster breadwinner, also miserable. In an accident (or was it? read the book), Lester is paralyzed, and their world turns on its ear. Eva ends up going to work, and Lester staying at home to play Mr. Mom. And presto change-o, everyone blossoms! It’s lovely. Eva is fulfilled, challenged, in her element; she earns raises and promotions and everyone’s respect and appreciation. Lester gets to know his children, marvels at their youthful struggles, their individuality, their talents. He learns to cook, bake, and darn socks. And the children become healthy, rosy-cheeked, encouraged – and the troublemaker amongst them gazes adoringly up at his father. It’s remarkable, and heartwarming, and, gosh.

As a story of a family, it is engaging, droll, actually laugh-out-loud funny at times. As an instructive tale – which it obviously is – it is straightforward and sensible. Who could not agree that we should all do what we’re best at and enjoy, if we’re so lucky as to have those two things coincide with one another, and to have a family comprised of all the roles necessary for universal happiness? It’s almost so obvious as to be dull; but the sad trick is that even in 2011, when we congratulate ourselves for being enlightened on such topics as gender roles, we still need this book. I can only imagine that this book’s contemporaries felt their feathers ruffled; but surprisingly, the introduction of my Cassandra Edition claims, “very little of the criticism was harsh or outraged.” This edition also includes an article Canfield wrote for the Los Angeles Examiner on marital relations; it’s well worth reading, too, and succinctly echoes the novel’s point: do what you do best, and be happy. That’s a big duh, right? But again, I’m afraid we still don’t have it right!

For example, one point that SCREAMED off the page at me was the same set of ideas applied to the currently uproarious debate about gay marriage. Canfield actually does refer to “a man and a woman” several times, but I’m going to give her credit and believe that if she were writing today, she’d apply the same logic she did to hetero-marriage. Two people who love each other and want to make a family should do it in the way that takes the best advantage of everyone’s skills and passions and makes everyone happiest! To me, this is abundantly easy to understand, but alas, still, we have debate. Sigh. I’m not trying to have that debate here (rather because I don’t think it merits much discussion) but it was an obvious corollary of Canfield’s position here so I wanted to mention it.

For those who fear a heavy-handed instructive tone weighing down a lovely story, don’t. I’m sensitive to that fault, myself (okay, it was nonfiction, but I loved County while lamenting its overly-obvious point). But it’s not an issue here. Canfield is matter-of-fact in her portrayals; I think the strength of the “issues” at play here are that they’re too clear-cut to BE issues. Does that make sense? And the story itself is delightful. “Cosmic Stephen in his pink gingham rompers!”

I really enjoyed this as much as just about anything else I read this whole year. It’s the first to compete with Fire Season by Philip Connors, which I’ve been calling my #1 best of 2011. (Rather different books they are, too.) Thomas, you’ve done me a great service, and here, I’ll try to pass it on: the rest of you, go find The Home-Maker today.


BUT.

Here’s my one caution for seekers of the book. I appreciated that my Cassandra Edition included the newspaper article that I mentioned above, and it’s a nice edition all-around, but for a single glaring flaw: page 134 is followed by page 119, which then runs back up to 134 and then skips to 151. So while reading this book and really enjoying it, I was suddenly thwarted! The publisher (after some discussion of what might be a reasonable way to deal with this issue) promised to put another copy in the mail to me. So it’s a nice edition, but find yourself a different one! Perhaps I’ll be able to make a recommendation when my new copy arrives.

5 Responses

  1. I am glad you enjoyed this book so much. Since I read it I have found a few other novels by Canfield, but am worried they might not live up to this one so I haven’t read them yet.

    The Persephone edition of The Home-Maker is wonderful of course. Oddly enough, however, I had another Persephone title (House-Bound) that had a similar printing problem to the one you mention with Cassandra.

    • I know it’s not a totally unique issue, but it was my first, and odd…

      I’m glad, too! I’ll be waiting to hear what you think of your other Canfields. I definitely understand your fear, although if I were holding them I doubt it would stop me for long. :)

  2. [...] DNFs within a week of reading my two most recent additions to the Best of 2011 list: 11/22/63 and The Home-Maker. So maybe everything else pales in comparison. At any rate, I’m sure there’s more [...]

  3. [...] back to my premature Best of 2011 post of December 1, to which I’ve since added 11/22/63 and The Home-Maker, for an unwieldy list of 22 (!) books I loved this year. What can I say, I’m full of [...]

  4. [...] mention goes to Dorothy Canfield’s The Home-Maker. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

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