Debt. Drought. Death. Farming. Faith.
Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson received the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1935. I would imagine that this book has spent a long time little read, relegated mainly to English classes. (Scenes from the Bookworld in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series come to mind.) Our local librarians loving found me a copy to read. Yet, the slim novel is especially relevant right now. It describes people who live day to day with the anxiety of possibly losing their homes. It describes an ever-growing drought, which many of us in the United States can relate to this year. It describes faith, love of nature, and coming of age, experiences that are timeless.
Briefly, the story is told by Marget, who in the beginning of the story is 14. She moves with her two sisters and her parents to a farm, which she soon discovers is mortgaged. They have lost almost everything they have owned and the farm is seen as their last chance. Her father’s every waking moment is shaped by his fear of losing the farm. Marget and her younger sister, Merle, see the beauty in the farm and in the land. Her older sister, Kerrin, is described in terms of her dark moods. The second part of the story takes place ten years after they move to the farm, during the drought year. The family has a new hired man, Grant, who affects the sisters in different ways. Despite taking a job as a teacher, Kerrin’s moods grow even darker. A tragic event leaves the family forever changed.
I enjoyed Johnson’s writing, especially her descriptions of nature and her gentle, introspective narrative. This helps her describe devastating events in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. Perhaps because both of my parents grew up on farms, I felt especially connected to the characters in the story. While some might consider the book depressing, it is also haunting and beautiful.