on October 29, 1999
Undoubtedly this book has a slow beginning. But it is definitely worth the effort. The author brings a whole town to life - Waynesboro, Ohio. Each and every character is described so vividly that I felt as though I actually knew these people. The book follows post-Civil War "Waynesboro" (a fictional name for a real city - Xenia, Ohio) through the next 50 years of the townspeople's lives. The main group of characters are the members of the Waynesboro Ladies Club. The story unfolds when Anne and Sally are 18 years old and the character list widens as each gets married, has children, etc. Before the end of the book I calculated there were almost 40 characters to keep track of - but it was well worth the effort. By the end of the book (a hearty 1,400 pages ) I was sad because I didn't want to leave the town of Waynesboro and its inhabitants. The author had succeeded in making me feel as though I knew each and every person. I've read this book 3 times in the past 15 years and will assuredly pick it up and read it again some time in the future. It took the author over 50 years of her life to complete this book (and finished it while living in a nursing home at the age of 80+ years). It was her life's work and I wish she had known before she died how many lives this book would touch. )
on January 25, 1997
This book was all the rage back in the early 80's when Book-of-the-Month Club made it a main selection. It was written by a comparatively unknown, elderly resident of a nursing home (who, I believe, died fairly shortly after the book's publication). For a short time everybody was talking about "...And Ladies of the Club". Fourteen years later, not many people remember the hoopla.
But if a book is any good, it's still good even after the glitter fades. And this one is GOOD.
I finally got around to reading it this year, partly because my wife read it and loved it. It is long (1100+ pages) but NOT difficult. I found the book hard to get "into" for the first one or two hundred pages, because there were many characters, and there hadn't been time to flesh out the personalities and relationships. But I am VERY glad that I stuck it out. Eventually the characters become vividly defined: lovable, hateable, and recognizable. The book is the story of a fictional medium-sized town in southern Ohio, from just after the Civil War to the beginning of the Depression. The story is told primarily through the eyes of a women's book club, and focuses particularly on two of the club's members and their families.
All the important themes of life are explored: love, race, jealousy, religion, war, politics, business, literature, education, family relationships, and death. If you read this book, you will be both moved to tears and richly educated in American history. How much more can you ask of one book?
on February 12, 2006
...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB is a sturdy chunk of a book that is both solid novel and solid history.
The story tracks the lives of several generations of families in a small Ohio town from the late 1860's to the 1930's. The heart of the book is a circle of acquaintances who are members of a women's literary society. The characters are a diverse lot with engaging stories that run the full gamut from the comic to the tragic.
The novel is also a magnificent social history. The progress of, well, Progress through the decades is one of the fascinating themes of the book. Santmyer writes with an eye that carefully sees and records the technological advances of the period. Changes in housekeeping, education, medicine, business, and transportation are woven into the fabric of the characters' lives, and a read-through of this book is a good and rather painless way of absorbing a large piece of American history. For my taste, a few chapters are a bit too freighted with the minutia of Presidential politics in the Gilded Age (my only complaint about the book), but those political chapters can be quickly skimmed without harming the substance of the narrative.
...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB is perfect for times when you can lose yourself in a great book. I can think of no better choice for cold winter nights or lazy summer afternoons. It's a book that I've returned to a number of times in all seasons, and I've never been disappointed.
on April 12, 2000
This wonderful novel has indeed, as Ms Privera notes in her review below, touched the lives of millions. But her comment that she wishes that Santmyer had known how lasting her book would be deserves to be addressed. I was with Santmeyer a few days after the story of the discovery of her novel was on the front page of the NY Times. She was being interviewed in her nursing home in Xenia, Ohio, by Dan Rather. Rather said to her, "How do you feel when they say you've written the great American novel?" Helen just chuckled and said, "Oh no. It's just a book about politics." She lived for almost another year, checking the NY Times every Sunday, and saw her book as #1 every single week for the rest of her life. As one enters Xenia now, there is a sign that says, "Home of Helen Hooven Santmyer, Author."
on January 5, 2001
I read this book about 10 years ago and have never forgotten it. When I first tried reading it, it took me 3 attempts to get past the first 2 chapters. But, once I made it past that hurdle I got so into this book with it's wonderful cast of characters, the time periods it covered and the setting of a small town that was growing that I wanted it to go on and on even though it was a pretty hefty book, over 1,000 pages. I have just purchased another copy because in some move or another I lost my original copy. I am ready to re-read this wonderful book - January is a perfect time to do this - the rush is gone, life is quiet and it's a wonderful opportunity to get into a book such as this one that just transports you right out of your living room into another time and era and mingle for awhile with some very interesting people. I cannot recommend this book enough for a great read.
on August 20, 2002
"...And Ladies of the Club" was an unexpected great success when it was published. This epic tale of a small midwestern town found many eager readers. I found it compelling, and Santmyer's account kept me turning the hundreds of pages, although I am unable to point to reasons.
As a former midwestern girl I could easily plug into the book, since the characters and setting felt so much like home. The sincere goodness of many of the earnest characters reminded me of the people of my own town. Their struggles, joys, redemptions earned and unearned, strike a familiar chord.
This is by any definition a woman's book. Male readers looking for an action/adventure tale might be disappointed. But Santmyer is eloquent in her depiction of slow-paced, relationship-based lives. Highly recommended!
on October 9, 2003
This is one of those books that creeps up on you. If asked to summarize the plot -- there isn't one. But it's nonetheless compelling to watch life unfolding for the characters.
Neither of the two main women characters is extraordinary. In that sense, they could be any of my ancestors, the women who lived, loved, bore children without anesthesia, kept house without electricity -- and enjoyed their lives and their families. Reading it gave me a real sense of what life was like in post-Civil War Ohio, and the truth is, it's not so very different now. The main subjects of the book are the things that lives have always revolved around: birth, death, love, marriage, sickness, betrayal, and faithfulness.
This isn't a quick read or a thriller. It does enfold you in a different time and place, and when you finish, you'll remember it.
on July 5, 2003
One of the best books I have ever read and I have read many. The book may seem daunting in its length but after the first chapter it flies by, unfortunately, as I did not want it to end. I was so caught up in the book that I could not put it down and read it in three days! This book has it all. There is plenty here for both men and women. Santmyer makes both her male and female characters multi-dimensional and compelling. I loved all the characters and the Amercian history. I would have liked to live in this town and know the individuals portrayed. My only complaint is that there is no sequel. Take the time to read this book. It is truly magnificant.
on July 9, 2006
I will agree with the reviewers who claim that 'not much happens' because its true that this book lacks a traditional "introduction, climax, conclusion" plot. But Helen Hooven Santmyer is incredible in the way she captures life, plain, simple, life. At age 20, I've read the book twice now and find myself deeply interested in each character, sympathetic or otherwise, by the second chapter. The insights into politics and medicine are fascinating to students of history, and the philosophical remarks upon deaths and births and new generations of children are honest and bittersweet. Do not be put off by its size. The book is easy reading and worth a time investment. I cannot recommend this novel strongly enough.
on December 8, 2011
How do you dehumanize an author? Answer: Wait till they are old, and put them in a nursing home.
This novel, touted in the '80s as the first (and only) novel of a little old lady in a nursing home, was written by a former college dean with extensive credentials in the English department (who got old). She had started this book earlier in life, but was too busy to finish it. She managed that task before she died, and I am so glad she did.
The story evolves primarily around one woman, who we see graduating with her friends from a women's "college" at age 18. The characterization is impeccable, and the words are put together like a fine painting. Reading the very first page, I knew this would be something special.
If you are accustomed to a story packed with action, thrills, chases and whatnot, this isn't your book. This is a leisurely, beautiful story, and the really fascinating thing is the way Santmeyer paces the book the way life FEELS in real life. She devotes entire chapters to youth, but the last 20 or 30 years just sort of slip away within a chapter or two, and she occasionally wakes up from an unplanned nap disoriented, thinking those who have died are still alive, or that she must see to dinner for a family member who moved out ten years ago.
It is breathtaking work, and as historical fiction, brilliantly accurate, aside from one weak place (but I couldn't take a star away) where she uses the novel as a political platform to rave a bit about an election that is long gone by now...and not an especially famous one. That's okay. By the time she does it, she has earned her little soapbox moment. The rest of the book is a masterpiece, and if you have the patience for good literature, you will find the time (though it may take you awhile!) to wade through this massive, but satisfying book.
I don't cry easily, but Santmeyer made me cry a couple of places. She takes a hold of the reader, and you become putty in her hands.
Please note that it is written at a high vocabulary level. This is not a book to hand to your precocious niece who just started high school. This is a book, I think, primarily for "the ladies" (if the title didn't already give you that clue), and it is gloriously written for educated women willing to spend some lazy time by the fire and be taken on a remarkable journey through an entire (fictional) life.
One reviewer says it starts slow. I would say the beginning is slow, yet promising. The first page shimmers enough to make the next couple of chapters worthwhile. Once you are into the text past the shallow level, you do, as another reviewer said, feel you have an entire town to take care of, and you couldn't possibly leave them dangling.
If you want something you can read while you are alternately trying to get something else done, this may not be the book for you. But if you have the opportunity to sit back and read a compelling, well developed story with incredibly richly developed characters, you really can't find anything better. I have taught English literature, and I'd take this over Tolstoy or Hawthorne any day of the week. Perhaps you will disagree...but it's worth finding out!