Friday, July 03, 2009

Out-of-Print: Iowa's Ruth Suckow


Most of Ruth Suckow’s novels are out-of-print.

Iowa writer Suckow (1892-1960) chronicled life in midwestern small towns. Her simple novels, comparable to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s and Willa Cather's, were popular in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.

Suckow, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, gypsied around Iowa with her father, mother, and sister, moving to pastorates in Hawarden, Le Mars, Algona, Manchester, Grinnell, and Earlville. Suckow became a behind-the-scenes expert on church-centered social life.

H. L. Mencken, who edited some of Suckow’s early stories for Smart Set, encouraged her to write her first novel, Country People (1924).

Her 1942 novel, New Hope, is a fictional account of Hawarden, Iowa, at the turn of the century. It is in-print, published by University of Iowa Press.

The publication is largely due to efforts of the Ruth Suckow Memorial Society, which meets once a year to discuss one of her books.

I recently read New Hope and very much enjoyed it. It centers on the arrival of a new minister's family in the small town of New Hope. They stay with the Millers until the parsonage is ready. The Millers, the main characters, are a bustling, sociable family, and a historical montage of family life at the turn of the 20th century emerges: scenes of women cooking fried chicken for church suppers, fudge-making, buggy rides, the importance of the railroad station to the economy, visiting farms, flirtations at church, even information about the town’s water supply. Frequent holidays break up the routine.

If you’re looking for a tight plot, New Hope fails. Our hectic post-phone-Kindle population may find this old-fashioned and slow. But if you want to read a plain but well-written novel about the details of middle-class life in the early 20th century, you’re in for a treat. It may not be a great book, but it's worth reading.

As I recall, The Folks (University of Iowa Press) was better. But I don't recall it enough to write a detailed review.

For now, Suckow's out-of-print books wait on the shelves for a new generation of readers to discover them.

For more information, visit the Ruth Suckow Memorial Society.

4 comments:

Mike Dargan said...

Hello Mad Housewife (Carrie Snodgrass, by any chance?). We belong to the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association (www.ruthsuckow.org), and would like to correspond with you.

Thanks for the good review.

MAD HOUSEWIFE said...

I'd be happy to join the association! Suckow intriques me.

I love the novel The Diary of a Mad Housewife. It was read on public radio a few years ago and I bought copies for all my friends.

Cherie Dargan said...

Hi Mad Housewife,

Great review of Suckow and her works. If you or your readers want to get some of her books, check the link on the Ruth Suckow website; there is a book club type service through the State library that lists a number of books. Members of our group have donated quite a few to the Cedar Falls Public Library, so you can also interlibrary loan them.

I am a Literature teacher in my "day job" and am always pleased that so many of my students can still relate with the portrayal of small town life in Suckow's stories.

We would love to see you at next year's meeting! Keep blogging!

Mad Housewife said...

Cherie,

I'm glad to know there are Ruth Suckow fans out there! I've found some of her books at book sales: The Omnibus, The Folks, and New Hope. She is really a new author to me, though. That's terrific that you introduce her work to your students. There's something very moving about the midwestern experience. Somehow that experience is underrepresented and overlooked. I've recently begun to read writers like Bess Streeter Aldrich, Wright Morris, and Mildred Walker. They're really very good: Morris is in the class of Willa Cather, the others not, but their books are good. And I'm thrilled to discover Suckow. There was an epiphany at the end of New Hope: it tied everything together. And I will try to attend the meeting next year.