Friday, March 29, 2013

Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell

The setting for Brook Evans is Normal, Illinois in 1888.  When I first picked the book up I thought it was going to be about a man, but Brook Evans is the daughter of Naomi Kellogg.

Naomi is in love with Joe Copeland who is the only son of a widow and works their farm which adjoins the Kellogg farm.  His mother thinks she's a cut above everyone else and nobody is good enough for her son, so secretly, Naomi and Joe meet under the willow tree near a Brook, hence the name Brook for their daughter.

"... her hand was on moss deeper and smoother than velvet, ..."

Resting in her bedroom which was always very special to Naomi, just thinking about Joe.

"The magazine lay under her hand, drowsily she thought of Italy, a land of romance.  The perfume of roses came in through her window, there was that good smell of drying hay - full clear song of the thrush.  The water of the brook - waters of Venice.  Ardent whispers, through the centuries.  She was close to Joe.  His eyes were loving her.  His voice whispered."

Unfortunately Joe dies unexpectedly when he is hit by the thrashing arms of his new combine harvester.  This is a tragedy not only for Naomi but the family an unwed mum.

"If you would and for my sake - stand a little disgrace?"  she asked timidly.  "Mostly it would be for just me. Then I would go away and make my living for my child.  O father, I would like that so much better."

"...and words Mrs Copeland and her father had used ... they were like rats."

 In comes Caleb Evans who has always liked Naomi and says he will marry her, even with the child.  They do so and move to Colorado farming country, east of the Rockies.

Caleb is very religious, he is good in his pious way, but Naomi never loved him and she never grows to love where she is, her only love is Brook and Brook is closer to her father not knowing that she is not his daughter.

Brook is invited to a dance by Tony Ross a  part Indian mostly Italian boy.  Her mum makes her a most beautiful dress in a pale yellow, Brook looks lovely in it.  Against her father's wishes with her mothers push she goes to the dance.

"This boy would not be riding to this love had there not been Joe, it was almost as if he were Joe, thus riding through the light sent down from Big Chief."

I think here Naomi equates Tony, of Italian heritage, with that long ago day of dreaming in her bedroom, of romance and Italy.

Joe, aided by Naomi, secretly courts Brook.

Caleb says:

"Turned from her he ventured:  "Well maybe you and Brook'll have a good time here together.  Kind of like a visit just you two."

Tears surprised her; even though he had not turned to her she turned back.  Words she so sorely needed - but could not accept from him."

Sylvia Waite is a missionary back for a while to visit with her mother before going off again, they all attend the same chapel.

"Outside she could hear Sylvia Waite's voice and Brook's acquiescence.  She moved nearer the dress twisted marked with tears.  She put her own hand upon it, as if seeking strength for what she had to do."

"Oh, there must be that little girl - sweet baby voice - not barren years with Caleb Evans."

While Caleb is away she knows that Tony is planning to ask Brook to elope with him, she approves of this, although Brook doesn't know she knows.  Brook leaves the house this will be the last time she sees her, as Tony is planning to take her to California and get married.  This is Naomi's sacrifice for her daughter's happiness.

"What would happen if every one were to give up what there was between what they were supposed to know and think, and what they really did know and think?"

There is a terrible twist in these events, which leads Brook to go off with Sylvia Waite on her missionary endeavors to Turkey, and her father signs the papers needed for her to leave the country.

The bitterness of this for Naomi, it is too much, she never sees her daughter again as she also has never returned home to see her family.

In Turkey Brook meets an English officer Bert Leonard and marries him, they have a son together Evan.  Time passes WWI comes and Bert is severely injured.  For a long while Brook nurses him, he dies and she decides to go and live in France.  Where she is courted by her husband's Colonel, Colonel Fowler, who all think she will marry.

Over the years her mother's family have written to her and she to them, they let her know that her aging father Caleb is living with them in Normal, her mother long since dead and will she come home to see him?

By chance at a party a friend is giving, she meets Eric Helge.

While in Paris:

"Ici!  she called rapping.  In this window was one dress.  Yellow you would call it, only it was more like light than like any color, unless it was like champagne ..."

Evan asks:

"For whom then?" he demanded."

"For my mother", she said, and he had never seen her face like this."

"Oh, you are lovely, Mother,"  her boy cried (Oh, you are lovely, darling!"  she heard the other voice, the voice she had not heard for twenty years."

Thus after all these years she understands, she is reconciled to her mother.

More happens, the book has an interesting ending it seems to come full circle.

I read half the book as it is divided by being marked as four books with chapters.  I read two and then put it down for a while, picked it up again with a fresh eye and thoroughly enjoyed it.


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