Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Review: Maud's Line by Margaret Verble

When Maud's Line was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, most people I know, even very bookish people said, "Huh? I've never heard of it!" I, instead, said, "Oh, I need to read that!" as I had it at home. It's not the kind of book I normally gravitate toward, as quiet atmospheric books can often be books where nothing happens. And I have seen reviews that accuse Maud's Line of having nothing happen, but that's crazy. There's a double-murder! And another death! And someone possibly losing their mind! And a disappeared fiancee!

But I am getting ahead of myself. Maud Nail lives with her brother, Lovely, in their mother's house in Oklahoma, on the land given to the Indians (which is the word used by them in the book as it is 1928). Their father shows up for a few days at a time, hungover, and then disappears again. Maud and Lovely keep things going, with doing the chores on the farm, and Lovely working for a nearby farmer for cash, to keep them (barely) afloat. One day, a peddlar arrives, with a bright blue wagon cover, and shelves of books. Maud is captivated (although one wonders if her feelings were more than a little influences by the books.) I don't want to give much more away but look to the last paragraph for hints of excitement to come.

The book is diffused with the grit and poverty and with grit of another kind: the determination and strength of character and of will to keep going, no matter what tragedies life puts in their paths. Maud is a great character--all quiet and steely backbone with the hard work to get through, and yet she dreams of more. She doesn't want to live her whole life in the middle of nowhere aside from her family, in a house without running water or electricity. She doesn't have flighty dreams but she wants more. Although the end of the book is foreboding, when things just seem to be working out, she thinks to herself (it's the New Year) that the last two years were pretty bad, so 1929 has got to be better! A cautionary reminder of the truism, things could always be worse.

There is not one extra word in this book. The word choices are exquisite, yet never show off. It's subtle, how impressive the writing is. You truly feel like you are there, on Maud's farm, on the porch where they've dragged out the rocking chairs because it's too blazing hot in the house, although there isn't a breath of air outdoors either. The characters feel very real, and yet the author doesn't spend time explaining them: this is a master class in "show, don't tell."

Brilliant, deceptively quiet, perfectly formed, this book is a gem.

The publisher sent me a free copy of this book.

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