Saturday, December 29, 2018

An essential reading list of Midwestern novels by women

Meghan O'Gieblyn is a writer who lives in Wisconsin. Her essays have appeared in Harper's Magazine, n+1, The Point, Boston Review, The Guardian, Ploughshares,, The Paris Review, and Tin House, and have been included in the Pushcart Prize anthologies and in The Best American Essays 2017. She is the author of the essay collection Interior States.

At LitHub she shared an essential reading list of Midwestern novels by women. One title on the list:
Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs

In some sense, this novel belongs to a tradition of coming-of-age stories in which a rural young woman arrives in the city (Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Hamlin Garland’s Rose of the Dutcher’s Coolly). But in deference to the realities of the contemporary Midwest, the rural-urban divide in this novel is less a binary than a spectrum. Tassie, the young narrator, grows up on a farm, but it’s a small hobbyist outfit devoted to heirloom potatoes, and her father is eccentric enough that the neighbors find him suspicious. Moore is better than any contemporary writer on the perils of pretentiousness in the Midwest, a place in which painting one’s barn the wrong color—Tassie’s father opts for a whimsical blue and white, rather than the standard red—can doom one to social opprobrium. If Tassie’s family is too enlightened for the countryside, she finds herself equally alienated when she leaves for university in a more populous college town—the fictional city of Troy—where she confronts professors who hold forth on “Henry James’s masturbation of the comma” and where she finds herself staring bewilderedly at the menus of posh French restaurants that “served things that sounded like instruments—timables, quenelles.”
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue