Family. Love. Madness. Heritage. Scandal.
A small box. That was the thought I had right after I finished Early Autumn, the 1927 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Louis Bromfield. This book feels neat, tidy, and restrained, yet there are whispers of ideas that make me think. Also, the book tells the story of a woman living in a small, restrained world.
Briefly, the story begins with a party for Sybil, the daughter of Olivia and Anson Pentland, who has come of age and is being introduced to society, with the hopes that she will find a suitable husband. Olivia’s friend Sabine, who is also Anson’s cousin, and her daughter arrive in Durnham for the purpose of stirring some things up. Olivia has a loveless marriage with Anson and yet she has spent her adult life humoring Anson’s controlling Aunt Cassie, soothing his mad mother, and being a confidant to his father. Olivia and Anson have a son, Jack, who has been an invalid since birth. The story is primarily about Olivia, describing the months between the party and Olivia’s fortieth birthday. There is both love and tragedy.
This is not the type of novel I normally read. I find myself arguing with my reaction. Part of me found it depressing, yet another part of me saw a type of triumph in it. Part of me found it boring and a bit pretentious, yet another part of me was touched by some of the ideas about heritage. This is not a book I would have sought out, yet I know that I have grown a little bit in my understanding of people because I have read it.