Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Cutters

Going and Coming by Norman Rockwell, the cover picture for the latest edition of The Cutters.

The Cutters by Mrs. Bess Streeter Aldrich was recommended as a book that celebrated the domestic arts. Recently I read a quote from Aldrich where she noted that just because a book chronicles the happy part of life does not make it any less valid than those books that chronicle despair. With this prompting I sought to read one of her books and ordered The Cutters.

I found the book to be a bit disappointing, because it seemed like a series of short stories without a centralized plot. I felt that the portrait of the mother was somewhat formulaic--on the one hand, she loves and enjoys her family and her domestic life in a small town, but on the other hand, she constantly yearns to be urbane and sophisticated and to make her name in the wider world. It turns out, since the grass is always greener on the other side, that all of her role models for sophisticated urbanity would rather be like her and have a family and live in a small town.

Thus the book is not exactly a celebration of domestic life, since the mother of the family remains somewhat uncomfortable in this role, or rather feels compelled to reject its joys--as has been the case with many women in modern times. See The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield for a different exploration of this difficulty.

Where the book shines is in the portrait of the grandmother, a pioneer woman now widowed and living with the family of her son. The chapter on her birthday reunion with all five of her sons and the last chapter in which Mrs. Cutter confronts the reality that her children are all now grown up are, to me, the most profound in the book, because in these chapters, Mrs. Aldrich explores the mysteries of the passage of time, and does it beautifully.

The portrait of the grandmother has made me anxious to read Mrs. Aldrich's novel of a pioneer woman, A Lantern in Her Hand.


Jodi said...

Hi Linda, did you know that A Lantern in Her Hand has a sequel called White Bird Flying? I own both books as I like B.S. Aldrich. I actually enjoyed the sequel more than the first, but my favorite of hers is Rim of the Prairie. Most of her stories seem to run along the same theme, and I read somewhere once that they are loosely based on family diaries.

Linda said...

Hi Jodi,
Thanks for letting me know about this. I think from how she described the grandmother's early life in The Cutters that these books will be good. I am eager to read them. I'm reading Bird in the Tree now by Elizabeth Goudge and enjoying that.

Nan said...

As I told you a while back, I got this through my library's inter library loan, but I didn't finish it. I may have had another book going and had to return it. I read only a few pages, but I had the same feeling you wrote about.

The Mrs. Malory mysteries include a lot about her domestic life. She's always doing something around the house. And in a recent book I read, she solved the mystery because she knew the details of the dead woman's domestic routine!

Woman of the House said...

I read The Cutter a few months ago after picking it up at a library sale. I agree with your review. The grandmother was the best part of the book. I enjoyed the book enough, but not enough to re-read it. I would like to try some others by this author.