Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel, completed more than 20 years ago, brings to American literature an imaginary small town where self-deception is woven into life.
Elizabeth Strout: A girl in a small town. Amy and Isabelle. Marja Haapio, Finland. Oak. 467 s.
This is where it started, Elizabeth Stroutin career, immediately with a handsome literary honorary. As a debut novel A small town girl is quite a masterpiece that made the then 42-year-old American writer a big star, one of the leading writers of his own generation. The breakthrough came in almost a one-off strike with no strange advance warnings. Few knew he had worked on his debut novel for Seven Years.
At the same time, the Portland-born author brought to U.S. literature a new milieu, the invented Shirley Falls, which is crossed by a river partially polluted by a local factory. While a corner town has no equivalent in reality, it does represent hundreds or even thousands of similar rural towns that actually exist.
What makes Shirley Falls mythical is that as a place, a habitat that defines people, it is separate from geography and time: there have always been similar small towns, and so will tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The same goes for its inhabitants.
In the beginning Marja Haapion the translation was published by Otava in 2001, and now Tammi has included it in its Yellow Library to complete the Strout collection.
To New England placed Shirley Falls also appears in later novels by Elizabeth Strout (b. 1956) – as in the hitherto untranslated novel The Burger Boys (2013) and in an episode novel published last year Olive, again.
A small town girl contains many elements and themes that have become familiar to Finnish readers of Strout ‘s production, as many have read three later translated novels. The now-re-released debut novel is just as relevant and bold as it was more than 20 years ago when it was published in the original language in the United States.
It drastically drills into the pressures, expectations, and fears created by a dual moralistic and creepy environment. The starchy life of Shirley Falls’s rules of conciliation opens up from the perspective of revealing the issue of the relationship between Isabelle’s mother and daughter Amy. A conflict of will spawns a situation that neither wants. On the other hand, neither ends up knowing what they want.
The premise is that, in his own words, the widowed Isabelle has armored herself as a self-sacrificing single parent, at least ostensibly. A mother confronts her 16-year-old daughter with her unrealized dreams and real fears. The daughter would like to get rid of her mother’s leash as is the custom for teenagers.
The retreating mother is secretary to local mill manager Avery Clark. It adds to the sense of alienation because Isabelle does not belong socially to the world of her boss or other, inferior female workers in the office. He hangs in between, not really belonging to anything.
In the novel living an indefinite year in the second half of the 1960s. The hot spring and summer are rustling locals, the crop is drying up in the fields and the river smells harder than usual.
With the heat licking the skin, the mother dreams of the head of the mill, even though this is married. The daughter, on the other hand, dreams of Thomas Robertson, a mathematics teacher who has become a substitute, who is divorcing his wife. Amya doesn’t really care about the reason for the difference.
The slowly advancing relationship between a teacher who treats young people seemingly equally and teenager Amy grows into a cloud that overshadows everyday life in the life of Shirley Falls, where no one wants to be allowed to peek behind a neat facade.
As Robertson and Amy literally get caught in the ankles of their pants in a car parked by a forest road, the lives of the community and Isabelle Goodman derail, and other secrets of the locality slowly begin to come to light. Frauds, lies, and hidden truths are no longer hidden. The betrayal of oneself and others begins to feel like a burden and not a protection.
Isabelle’s desperate effort to keep her face and keep the facade in shape is also embodied in her last name, which is one of the oldest British surnames in New England. It obliges and binds him to the tradition of a decent life. As the narrative intensifies, the central question becomes the extent to which the mother and daughter are carved from the same tree.
Do they have a similar blood call?
Nearly 500 pages A small town girl is the most enjoyable reading novel. The tensions it captures fold organically, and the intensity of the narrative increases as if unnoticed.
The temporal tendency of the narrative is also more modern than it seems on the upper sides. The present moment rewinds back and forth and also opens towards the future, creating a cunning temporal flutter. In this respect A small town girl is not a traditional epic novel that would be captured in its own linearity. It is in motion all the time, in several directions.
Strout’s absolute power lies in his strong portrayal. He knows how to be cruel and loving towards his people at the same time. His gaze or quick glance always reflects both irony and empathy.
The lives of women in Shriley Falls are more or less knotted, which they all try to hide in different ways. Happiness is somewhere – far away. In this world, man is a distraction.
There are many handsome narrative solutions included that add to the tension in the story. From time to time, a news event rising from the time of the narrative in a nearby town about a kidnapped teenage girl gradually intensifies towards a final solution that also has a connection to the lives of Amy and Isabelle. Bored, Amy wonders many times how her mother would have reacted if she had been kidnapped.
Likewise, Isabelle’s attempt to educate herself takes on a symbolically charged dimension. The mother starts reading books because her own daughter finds her uncivilized. Amy does not reveal to her mother that she has found the books herself, thanks to the math teacher. William Shakespearen a brutal royal tragedy Hamletia Isabelle can’t wade beyond the start, Gustave Flaubertin Mrs. Bovary instead, it sinks well. Emma’s story hits the heart more directly than Hamlet’s fight with her father.
Self-deception looking at mechanics A small town girl also brings its own addition to a long tradition in U.S. literature. Strout originally cultivates the fertile soil that has given birth Edgar Lee Mastersin Spoon River Anthology, Sherwood Anderson Winesburg, Ohio, William Carlos Williamsin Patterson and John Cheeverin Bullet Parkin.
A small town girl is a wise, lovable, cold, revealing and empathetic novel that does not give a very beautiful picture of us humans.
Yet Elizabeth Strout does not oppress to give up hope. He could state Saul Bellowin Herzogin in the words of the protagonist: but how charming we are.
Author Sofi Oksanen talks to Elizabeth Strout. The interview can be viewed at the Book Fair on 24.10. at 12.00 and at HS.fi/kulttuuri.