Friday, April 16, 2010

The Kramer Girls

"Ruth Suckow is a living answer to those critics who have damned the small town as a place where no artist can flourish."

Yes, I love this, too. This dramatic quote appears on one of the back pages of my 1930 copy of Ruth Suckow's The Kramer Girls. Pasted on the opposite page is something so charming I felt the need to photograph it: an index card labeled "Portage Book Club" with a list of names and dates of members who borrowed this novel in 1930 and 1931.

Portage, Wisconsin, is a small town of 9,000, located north of Madison. I love to think of the Portage Book Club passing around this book in 1930. Suckow, a minister's daughter and beekeeper who lived in Iowa for many years and wrote short stories and novels about small towns in Iowa, was encouraged to write by H. L. Mencken. Born in Hawarden, Iowa, and raised in small towns, including Grinnell, where she went to college, she was living in New York when this novel was published in 1930.

There are 20 names on the Portage Book Club index card. Seven of them borrowed this book. They are (I've guessed at some of the names that are illegible with age):

Margaret R.J. 1/24-1/31/31
Ethel Kerr Oct. 18, '30
Mattie K. H. Oct. 25, '30
Narisa K. S. Nov. 1, '30
Ethel Klemment Nov. 8, '30
Mamie Mae G. Nov. 10, '31
Metu H. J. Nov. 25, '30

I will write more about this charming novel later. It's very complex, despite Suckow's very plain style--plainer than her 1942 novel, New Hope (which I wrote about here, here, and here), which I would recommend you start with. The Kramer Girls tells the story of three sisters, of whom the older two, the dominating Georgie and the good-natured Annie, sacrifice themselves to care for their paralyzed mother at home so the youngest, Rose, can go to college.

This novel must have meant so much to women of my grandmother's generation. Like Rose, my grandmother taught school. Suckow describes in detail social events like church suppers, Rose's dates with a "bad" boy and later reluctance to marry, her receiving the Phi Beta Kappa key, Georgie's envy and thrill at vicariously living through Rose.

Wouldn't the book club's descendants be thrilled by this book?

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