I relished every minute I spent reading Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-Maker. Its basic story line deals with the more-or-less straightforward dilemma that faces most parents today - how best to divide between them the work of supporting and raising their children. Which parent should go out and work to earn money, and which one must sacrifice their career? Which parent will get to stay at home to nurture and care for the kids and who will escape most of the tedium of having to do the household chores? Nothing much new here, you might quite rightly say, until you know that Ms Fisher began her writing career more than one hundred years ago.
Not only does the author show how much more complex (and in some ways, how little different) were these issues to society in early twentieth century America, but she also writes a compelling portrayal of the fictional family that must live these problems. Father, mother, the children and their neighbours all become people whom the reader takes to heart, cries with and cheers on to their various successes.
The Home-Maker mulls over serious questions like the power relationships that exist between parent and child and whether, "even a little boy, had some standing in the world, inviolable by grown-ups, yes, sacred even to parents." It wonders whether the assertion that, "Home-making is the noblest work anybody can do!" holds as much true if a husband must do all the housework, as it does when the wife must. It explores the ways that round people might change and flourish if they are prised out of the square holes into which life compresses them, and are allowed to settle more comfortably into easy-fitting round holes.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher creates multi-faceted, complex characters by using the device of narrating her novel from multiple points of view. She writes her characters' lives so very intimately that the reader gets to share in some of their deepest emotions - a small child's fiercely protective love for his endangered Teddy Bear, a young boy's inexpressible joy when he at last acquires a puppy of his own, a daughter's sense of accomplishment when she manages, during a delighfully funny scene in their kitchen, to teach her father the correct way to break raw eggs in order to cook an omelette.
Thought-provoking, heart-warming and immensely readable, I hope Ms Fisher's novel will give you as much pleasure as it did me. I hope too that Persephone Books, the publisher that rescued The Home-Maker from near oblivion, will revive a few more of the forty or so books that Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote and published to great acclaim during her life as one of the foremost American novelists of her time.
Written by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Published by Persephone Books Ltd
Reviewed by Moira Richards
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