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Ah, Gene Stratton Porter — a Hoosier author whose two Indiana homes are not far from mine. We’ve visited both, more than once, and I love Gene’s dedication to the plants and animals she grew up among.
When my girls were younger, I read “Freckles” and “Girl in the Limberlost”, both by Porter, to them. I love this photo of them acting out a scene from one of the books with their toys 🙂 Earlier this year, I read and enjoyed her book, “The Story of the Cardinal.”
So, when a friend offered to loan me a copy of Porter’s A Daughter of the Land which she’d purchased at an estate sale (see top photo), I said yes. The book was inscribed inside with a 1926 date (the book was written in 1918).
This is a difficult book to review, because it was just … strange, in many ways. I’d chalk that up to its being written a hundred years ago, but I didn’t get the same strange vibe with her two books I’d read to the girls, or with the cardinal one.
Kate Bates, the protagonist, is the source of much of the off-feeling this book had to me. Kate is very black-and-white in her thinking, and she certainly always thinks her way is the best. She’s very … confident? annoying? in her expression of her views as well. When her sister tries to convince Kate to splurge and buy a new hat, Kate says to her, “Get thee behind me, Satan. No. I never had anything charged, and never expect to.” Dave Ramsey would be proud, no doubt, but I’m guessing he might phrase himself a little more tactfully?
The book did keep my interest throughout its nearly 500 pages, which is a testament to Porter’s ability to tell a story. Part of my interest was due to wondering just what would happen next, and at times it seemed Porter even lost track of what she’d written earlier. Kate and her sister like each other, then don’t, then are friends again. Late in the book (spoiler alert!), I was pretty surprised to learn that a brother-in-law and Kate professed to each other that they had only ever loved each other. Somehow, I hadn’t picked up on that at all up until that point. Kate makes decisions on marriages quite suddenly, and people — “conveniently,” usually those who seem to be in her way — die often and quickly as well (can someone, and a young someone at that, “turn her face to the wall” after a deep conversation, and just die? Apparently so).
The arbitrariness of Kate that makes her a fascinating read also makes her sound like a lousy person to know in real life. She is set to marry one guy, then changes her mind seemingly based on his poor spelling in a letter to her (study your spelling, men!). She suddenly and inexplicably marries someone else, but tires of him quickly. Check out this ultimatum — I didn’t know 1915-era women talked to men like this: “I’m giving you one, and a final chance to act. This seems all that is open to us. Go to work like a man, and we will see what we can make of our last chance.” A few pages later, she ends another speech to him with “You make me sick!”
You go, girl?
I’m still a Porter fan, and I’d recommend this one perhaps as comic relief, but for true GSP greatness, stick with “Freckles” and “Girl of the Limberlost.”
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