Thursday, November 26, 2020

Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton-Porter : A Book Review

Born August 17, 1863, in Lagro, a small town in north central Indiana, Geneva Grace Stratton was the youngest of twelve children. Although receiving little formal education in her early years, she began attending school regularly after the family moved to Wabash, Indiana, in 1874. She quickly became an avid reader and soon expanded her learning to music and art. In 1884 Charles Porter met her, established a relationship via letters, and they married in August 1886. During their courtship, Geneva called herself Gene, and used that shortened version of her name for the rest of her life. In 1919, she moved to California, where she lived until her untimely death on December 6, 1924, from injuries suffered in an auto accident.

Stratton-Porter penned 12 novels, most of which became best sellers in the first part of the twentieth century. She also wrote nonfiction, children's books, poetry, and more during her writing years. In 1921 she published Her Father's Daughter, the subject of this review. That story relied heavily on her considerable knowledge of nature and plants, as well as her artistic ability, which set much of the scene throughout the book. A comparison of it to today's novels reveals an interesting picture of the change in writing styles during the last hundred years. 

Her Father's Daughter qualifies as a young adult novel, at least to this octogenarian—although the story contains sufficient adult characters and situations to hold the interest of older readers. Its protagonist, Linda Strong, is an outspoken high school junior when the story begins. A free thinker who was raised primarily by her father until his death when she was about twelve. The auto accident that took his life also killed her mother and the parents of her best friend. Thereafter, she lived with her older sister and the family cook in her parents' home and was mostly left to fend for herself by her selfish, spoiled sister, who took all the monthly funds provided from her fathers' estate, paying the household expenses and confiscating the rest for her own extravagant wardrobe and private savings account. Meanwhile, young Linda was looked down on and made fun of by her classmates because of her sparse, unattractive clothing and shoes.

(I read this novel because it was my aunt's favorite when she was a young girl. She will still tell me about it if I bring up the topic of books. My aunt, by the way, will be 103 this coming February, and she's still quite sharp mentally.)

The story begins with a senior boy at Linda Strong's school making fun of her clothing and shoes. So intense is his criticism that she makes an appointment with him on a Saturday to have an all-out argument over her clothing choices. Well aware that her few plain, worn outfits were not up to par with the girls in her class, the teenager had not, up to that time, felt overly self-conscious about being different. However, the confrontation with the senior changed all that, providing a solid stepping stone into the story.

Following her through her growing toward womanhood and her relationships with the few people close to her creates an interesting tale. Having said that, however, it contains some definite pros and cons.

Pros:
The story dwells at length on the various kinds of plants that grow in a desert area near Linda Strong's home in southern California. While this is often fascinating information, it is sometimes a bit lengthier than it needs to be.

Characters are generally well developed.

Some excellent dialogue engages the reader and highlights the protagonist's sense of humor.

Good story progression.

Somewhat predictable, but doesn't detract from the book's readability.

Conclusion ties up the loose ends and doesn't leave the reader wondering what happened.

Writing quality is generally good.

Cons:
As mentioned above, the overabundance of nature description sometimes pulls the reader out of the action. I skipped parts of it rather than put the story down, since it was to be the topic of my book review.

Dialogue often was overly long and detailed. Seemed more like a speech than a conversation.

The Irish brogue of the cook is ineffective and on occasion hard to decipher. It didn't remind me of any Irish brogues I've heard in recent years.

While the writing is good as noted, the punctuation leaves a lot to be desired.

The problem for me: 
This story reeks of racism and white supremacy. The author doesn't pick on any particular race; rather, she looks down on all of them except whites, disdainfully portraying black, brown, red, and yellow as inferiors. The antagonists in this book are Japanese. Throughout the story, however, she openly includes all non-whites as unfit to enjoy any privileges or luxuries of their white counterparts. On the other hand, she repeatedly touts the superiority of the white race. For me, this spoiled what otherwise was a decent story. 

Takeaway:
Personally, I believe we have a responsibility to our readers. No matter what our personal feelings are, I don't believe we should hit those who read our fiction works over the head with them. This doesn't mean we can't share our beliefs through those who populate the pages of our stories—of course, we can. However, doing it in a balanced storyline dignifies readers by giving them a choice of who to cheer for. In my opinion, presenting differing points of view through various characters adds interest to a story. That's what makes humans—and by extension our characters—so interesting, so thought provoking, so real. Just a thought . . .

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

6 comments :

  1. What an interesting review. It seems our racism is buried deep in our culture, coming from so many of the white people who came to this country in early times. It then extended to "others." I'd never heard of this person, and the review of this book doesn't make it interesting to read other than as a cultural history.

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  2. It's definitely from a different time, but one that isn't all that far removed from today. My aunt who recommended this book was born before it was written, and she's still living. The author, Gene Stratton-Porter, wrote it when Aunt Dede was a toddler, and most of her novels were best sellers in the early part of the twentieth century. Many readers today would not likely be drawn to it because it moves rather slowly and suffers from acute wordiness. My original thought in reviewing it was to be a comparison to today's writing; that got sidetracked by the constant racism -- which turned me off. However, I didn't have the time or opportunity to choose another book by the time I was well into this one. Had I read a review similar to this one beforehand, I would not have read it.

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  3. I agree that everyone should read widely. While by today's standards the story isn't PC it is an apt reflection of how a specific author channeled her thoughts at the time. I don't think we should "cancel" everything that we now find objectionable, but rather learn from it. The cancel culture has gotten so out of hand, people are afraid to write anything that someone might criticize, which is impossible.

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    1. I agree with what you're saying, Diana. What I took exception to was it's being overdone via the protagonist at every opportunity. A little subtlety or a bit less in-your-face racism would have made the story both more palatable and less offensive even if it accurately represented the attitude of the time.

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  4. What an interesting review, and I don't think we should "cancel" reading what offends us or what we don't agree with. Like Diana said, and you said, Linda, we can learn from it. But I do admire you, Linda, for wading through the writing that was so challenging to read - the tedious dialog, etc. You are a better person than I am. LOL

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    1. My objection is to the excessive use of the author's apparent soapbox at the sacrifice of the story itself. The presence of racism is necessary for this particular tale; however, it is taken to the extreme to the point of pulling the protagonist out of character based on all else the reader has discerned about her. Of course, learning the attitudes of any given time has great educational value for those who weren't there and who seek to understand how we became who we are today. :-)

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