Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday Book Review

In 1915, American Author Edgar Lee Masters published Spoon River Anthology, a collection of monologues in free verse. The voices of the dead speak about the lives they lived, sometimes tragic,sometimes triumphant. In death, they speak of themselves as they perceive themselves to be. The reader interprets and, inevitably, judges.

Two hundred forty-five former residents of the mythical Spoon River share with us the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned, the secrets they took with them, and more often than not, their opinions of each other. The interplay between family members, colleagues, friends, enemies, and strangers weaves a spell of wonder and wanting to know more.

In the pages of of this small volume, we get to know

Hod Putt, Indian trader
Ollie McGee, abused wife
Amanda Barker, dead in childbirth
Chase Henry, town drunkard
the troubled Pantier family,
Emily Sparks, schoolteacher
the Town Marshall
the Circuit Judge
Blind Jack, the fiddler
the unsung author
John Hancock Otis, politician
Ida Frickey, who married wealth
Father Malloy, the priest
Godwin James, a casualty of the Spanish-American War
The Village Atheist
and so many more

My favorite is Lucinda Matlock, because she introduced me to Spoon River when I read her monologue in my American literature book as a junior in high school. Lucinda, the young woman who met her lifetime lover
driving home from an entertainment on a moonlit June evening. Married for seventy years, she buried Davis, her husband, and eight of her dozen children.

At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you---
It takes life to love Life.

Born in Kansas, the author grew up in Petersburg and Lewiston, Illinois.He took the names for his fictional citizens of Spoon River from the gravestones in the Lewiston Cemetery.  He practiced law in Chicago, but in 1921 he turned to writing full-time. He is buried in the same cemetery that was his inspiration for Spoon River Anthology.

If you've ever walked through an old cemetery, either for research purposes or out of curiosity, you've surely wondered about the people to whom the names inscribed on the tombstones belong. Here's your chance to find out--and perhaps to see yourself in some of their words.


K9friend said...

It's been many years since I read Spoon River. You've inspired me to take a new look at it!

nlindabrit said...

Thank you for a most interesting book review.