The Civil War. A Young Couple in Love. A Violation. A Secret. Mothers and Sons. Scottish Immigrants. Prairie Farmers. Justice.
The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson is a wholesome, well-written and enjoyable story. It won the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. The story is set in a Scottish farming community at the time of the end of the Civil War. The characters are warm and relatable. While the storyline is simple, it is pleasant. The novel contains a little humor, some tragedy, a lot of love, and a bit of justice.
Briefly, when Wully McLaughlin is on leave from the Civil War, he falls in love with his neighbor Chirstie. When the war ends and he comes home to marry her, he finds that she has been raped and impregnated by his cousin Peter. Wully marries her anyway and takes the blame and shame for the out of marriage conception. –Wully comes from a family with a strong sense of religion– When the baby is born, Wully accepts the child as his own. But the little family’s happiness is again challenged. The novel also has a minor storyline that involves Chirstie’s father marrying a feisty woman, Barbara, who he brought back from Scotland.
As a woman who has sometimes dreamed of becoming a novelist, I noticed a number of things that I liked about The Able McLaughlins. The first is a series of scenes that involve the people of the community searching for Peter. Wilson does a nice job of contrasting Wully, who is obsessed with killing Peter, with Aunt Libby, a woman who fiercely loves and longs for her son. Second, Wilson does a nice job of linking the ending of the story back to the beginning. She includes information that seems to be only ambient detail but later proves to have significance.
I also like The Able McLaughlins because parts of it feel familiar to me. I have known families with strong religious faiths, who always offer up a prayer with meals; hardworking farmers; fierce mothers. Wilson has a series of scenes, where Barbara is looking for flowers to put in her new garden, which resonate with my own life. Some of the neighbors where I grew up, as well as my grandmother, were passionate gardeners, who would willingly give slips of plants to appreciative strangers.