Was there something deeper and more mysterious in his mother’s philosophy than he and his generation who knew so much had suspected; something not simple but complex; something which held not only that hardship built happiness but which somehow implied that hate built love; and evil, goodness?
I was reading one of the last chapters of The Town by Conrad Richter when I realized that I was sobbing. Up until that time, I wasn’t sure that I even liked the book. I felt like I was just plodding along, determined to finish yet another one of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction books. Sure, there were some beautiful scenes. But, after reading more current, popular fiction with fast paced plots and witty narrators, reading this novel felt like a chore. Yet, I realized that it touched my heart. I knew these characters. Perhaps I even was one or more of the characters.
The Town won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is the third novel in Richter’s The Awakening Land Trilogy, which begins with pioneers settling in 1795 Ohio and ends with the citizens industrializing the town that eventually rises up. If I had read the first two novels in the series, I am sure that I would have had a very different impression of the story. For example, I would have better understood the importance of the trees. Still, I could easily follow the plot.
Most of the chapters revolve around Sayward, the founder of the town and the mother of ten children, or her son Chancey, the runt of the family who was never expected to survive into adulthood. In many ways they are foils to one another, Sayward’s hardiness versus Chancey’s frailty. A number of chapters are about Rosa, the illegitimate child of Sayward’s husband, a respected judge. Rosa provides yet another foil to Chancey. He imagines that he isn’t really his parent’s son. While Rosa doesn’t realize that she is the Judge’s daughter.
I’m still not a great fan of slow moving, period piece novels, but The Town has many beautiful scenes. In one, Sayward finds out her long-lost sister is still alive, but the reunion proves more bitter than sweet. In another scene, Sayward, who has spent a life-time feeling animosity toward the trees, brings some saplings home to plant in her town yard. Over and over, Sayward makes one concession after another, yet until the very end she remains a strong, admirable woman. Part of me wishes that I had read the series from the very beginning so that I could read more about this woman.