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The Quickening Paperback – June 29, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; First Edition edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513460
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513460
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #839,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amy Greene Reviews The Quickening

Amy Greene is the author of Bloodroot.

I can usually tell within the first few pages whether or not I’ll love a book. With Michelle Hoover’s novel The Quickening, I knew from the first line. The voices of Enidina and Mary, two Iowa farmwives bound by their struggle to survive in the lonesome upper Midwest on the cusp of the Great Depression, are that real and charged with emotion. Right away, it was clear that I was in capable hands with this debut author.

Reading The Quickening, I was reminded of Willa Cather’s rugged depiction of 1900s prairie life in My Antonia, and Jane Smiley’s complex portrayal of a Midwestern farming family in her Pulitzer Prize–winning novel A Thousand Acres. But Hoover’s point of view is uniquely her own, having grown up herself in the Midwest she writes about so vividly, the granddaughter of Iowa farmers. The Quickening is inspired by the life of the author’s great-grandmother, and although Hoover’s authorial hand is never heavy, her personal stake in the story undoubtedly lends to the psychological suspense of the narrative and the emotional resonance of the tragic events that play out as a result of Eddie and Mary’s turbulent relationship. While Hoover’s prose is quiet and understated, it thrums with tension from beginning to end, so that I found myself lost in the pages for hours at a time. Finishing The Quickening was like waking from a dream, or another life I had lived for a while. Perhaps Michelle Hoover’s greatest accomplishment with her first novel is her ability to draw the reader so completely into the world she has created, to give the reader a window into the past and into the hearts and minds of her unforgettable characters.

The Quickening is an exciting discovery, introducing a fresh storytelling voice and promising a distinguished body of work to look forward to, as well as a new favorite author to add to my list. Michelle Hoover is a stunning literary talent with a long career ahead of her.

Questions for Michelle Hoover

Q: The idea behind your novel, The Quickening, came from an old family document you discovered—tell us about that.
A: It wasn’t until my twenties that my mother gave me a copy of my great-grandmother’s journal, only about fifteen pages. I doubt many in my family considered journal keeping--both the time it took and the "navel-gazing" required--to be worth much in comparison to a good day's work. In beginning to write at all, my great-grandmother was surely urged on by her daughter, my eccentric Great-Aunt Ollie, and also by the recent loss of her husband, Frank--a loss that left my great-grandmother so stunned and weary that she didn’t know what else to do with herself. Perhaps my life, she began, and that of my dear husband has meant little or nothing to anyone except to us and our immediate family.... What followed was a voice and story that carried more heartache and regret than I ever thought possible of my reticent family. Aunt Ollie typed up her mother's pages and inserted family photographs, the people in which appeared dour and wind-swept and proud. With the combination of my great-grandmother's voice and those faces, I was hooked. When I sat down to write my own Enidina, her voice came easily. Suddenly I was inside a woman who'd lived through the turn of the century and the chaos and confusion that followed, a woman now exhausted more by the loss of her family than any event history had thrown at her. It was this loss that kept her talking and kept me trying to understand what happened to put her in such a place.

Q: After you found this letter, how did you find out more about your family history?
A: I looked through other family documents--though there weren't many--and researched the time period. Some of my great-grandmother's story seemed impossible, such as the meteorite she claimed struck a nearby farm and broke windows "for miles around." I’ve found no proof of such an occurrence, but I also couldn't leave the idea alone and so wrote it into the book--a bewildering incident in the eyes of my two farmwomen and their neighbors, enlarged to a metaphoric level by Mary's religious fervor and guilt. My mother took any number of last-minute "is this possible?" calls and was the first to tell me about the family "cave," an earthy food cellar detached from the house and which I found fascinating both in name and function. My uncle Lowell was also a great help for details, and we had several phone conversations about hog slaughtering and other time period questions, such as what the family ate during different seasons and how they might have prepared the food. My uncle is a natural storyteller as are a large number of the men in my family, men who are quiet, kind, and deeply religious with easy, wistful laughs and dark singing voices.

Q: And is it true that the character Enidina is loosely based on your great-grandmother’s story?
A: Yes, though Enidina is also very much her own character. I used my great-grandmother's recent loss of her husband to compel Enidina's own story. I borrowed my great-grandparents' real-life hardships during the Depression and the strangeness of the wars. The way Enidina and Frank meet in the book is nearly the same as my great-grandparents' meeting. My great-grandmother, however, was a tall slender woman, somewhat severe and impossibly industrious. Because I never knew Melva, Enidina’s physicality is that of my grandmother, another powerful matriarch both in stature and will, with the largest hands I have ever seen on a woman. Many of her grandsons have these hands now. But Enidina is far plainer than either woman, so plain in fact that I felt bound to give her fiery red hair, a hint of the boldness and determination hidden within an otherwise reserved front. I wanted at least one of my women to gain the reader's interest through physical and mental fortitude alone, without the easy gifts of charm and beauty that successful women--particularly today--are assumed to have and cultivate.

Q: As a native of Iowa, you've set your debut novel in a place you know well. Could this have taken place anywhere else? Can you speak to the role of place in your writing?
A: For me, the book really needed to be set in the Midwest, and in the part of the region I know best--the flat middle ground where the mind expands and there's little between the horizon and the homestead to stop it. Even though I live in the east now, this landscape is a part of me and my temperament, a way of keeping things level, where self-obsession and unbridled emotion are simply inconsiderate and wasteful. The landscape carries the same sense of absence that I felt after my father’s unexpected death when I was teenager, and because I left the place only a few years later, it hasn’t lost it. But there's a beauty there too, though it's quiet, and there's a peace, though for me this peace is taut with the threat of change. I often stayed away from home after I graduated from college, possibly as a way to shake off that absence. Only in the last year of finishing the book did my mother reveal that southern Iowa, where my great-grandmother's farm was, is full of low, rolling hills. This seemed impossible to me and in no way suits any memory I have of my family or the landscape they existed on. Nonetheless, Enidina, my Enidina, could not exist in a place with hills.

Q: Where does the title come from?
A: I’m not sure when I first learned the term "the quickening" for a child’s first movements in the womb, but the phrase seems both dangerous and marvelous to me, full of life and the possibility of its loss. Both literally and metaphorically, Enidina herself is always on the verge of this quickening, on the threshold of something new. For a rural woman in the early 1900s, such a feeling promised a new child, but also the possibility of its death, or the death of the mother herself. It was a miracle and a curse at once. All that Enidina knows of her only grandchild is the feeling of this quickening when she touches her daughter's stomach shortly before the girl leaves home. It is this child she is writing to and searching for from the beginning of the book. The child is the only reason she is telling the story at all.

Q: While the novel takes place nearly 100 years ago, do the ideas of self-reliance and the support women offer one another in times of hardship stand true today?
A: Most certainly. The majority of women I know are tough souls. They have survived miscarriages and the deaths of loved ones, rape, abuse, abandonment, and heartache. Though men obviously suffer the same, these are the kinds of losses that affect women to such an extent that the idea of the long-suffering female has become a cliché. As a result, women must be exceptionally strong and often need to do so without recognition or complaint. Of course women have also been granted an easiness and openness with each other that society both expects and ordains--an expectation that isolates Enidina when she fails to live up to her gender. For the most part, however, women have the ability to seek out friendships and attain a closeness that many male relationships simply do not allow. Mary’s husband, Jack, for instance is never granted an emotional reprieve in this novel, a circumstance I consider common. As a Midwestern man in the early 1900s, he simply has nowhere to go with his confusion, temper, and disappointments, and he becomes a tragic figure. Women of course can also be terribly cruel to each other if they consider something that is theirs, something they love, is threatened. Much of this cruelty is instinctual, almost animal. It is the ferocity of the mother protecting her young. But it can also provoke the kind of greed and selfishness that even today keeps women from achieving everything they could.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hoover's powerful debut tells the story of the intertwined fortunes of two early 20th-century Midwestern farm women. From the time Enidina Current and her husband, Frank, move into the hardscrabble farmhouse a day's wagon ride away from Enidina's family, their closest neighbors, Jack and Mary Morrow, perplex them, though their proximity and shared farm work often bring the two couples together. Sharing the narrative, stoic Enidina struggles through several miscarriages before finally bearing twins, while the more delicate Mary reels from disappointment, most of all in her volatile husband. Moving through the Depression, the families are driven farther apart from each other, even while Mary's youngest spends most of his time in the Current household, until an accident and a betrayal drive the final wedge into their lives. In this finely wrought and starkly atmospheric narrative, Hoover's characters carry deep secrets, and their emotions are as intense as the acts of nature that shape their world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Michelle Hoover has taught writing at Boston University and GrubStreet, where she co-founded the Novel Incubator, a year-long intensive in the novel. Her debut, The Quickening, was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and is a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award "Must Read" pick. She is a 2014 National Endowment of the Arts Fellow, awarded for her upcoming second novel, Bottomland, which will be published by Grove in 2016. This fall, she joined the creative writing department at Brandeis University as the Fannie Hurst writer-in-residence. For more, go to

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Customer Reviews

This author's writing style is beautiful, clear, and touching.
Amazon Customer
If a book doesn't do it for me, I delete it from my Kindle and that is what happened with The Quickening.
Classy Grandma
I did not like the characters the plot was pretty much non existent.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Pamela A. Poddany VINE VOICE on June 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )

The span of years from 1913 till 1950 are reminisced by two characters, neighbors Enidina Current and Mary Morrow. The two women tell us the stories of their lives as neighbors living on farms in the Midwest. One would think these two women living miles from civilization would be thick as thieves and happy to have each other for company, but the fact of the matter is, these two women never form a friendly relationship.

Enidina -- called Eddie by her husband -- is in love with her new husband, Frank, and happy and content to be a farm wife. Living and working a farm is never easy, but back in the early 1900's this life is unforgiving and hard. Enidina is a large and tough woman having been raised doing farm work a man would do. This is the life for her and she is more than satisfied working the land with Frank.

Mary, on the other hand, comes from a well-to-do family. Living the life of a farmer's wife is not quite what she had in mind. However, she takes what she can get in the way of marriage and travels where her vows take her. Due to ugly circumstances when she was a young girl, Mary and her parents were suddenly and forever ostracized by the town. Mary and her husband, Jack, move to the farm close to Enidina and Frank.

The two women meet and a friendship of sorts is established albeit not warm and friendly. They are not friends -- they are only neighbors. Anyone living in a neighborhood can attest to that fact -- there are neighbors who are neighbors and there are neighbors who are friends. There is a difference. However, in times of strife, they are there for each other.

Mary and Enidina both tell their stories, both of their lives entwined with the others.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Holly Weiss on September 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
Michelle Hoover sat me at the kitchen tables of her characters in her stunning novel, The Quickening, and served me a slice of the human condition I will never forget.

Her book is a brutally honest narrative of Edwina Current and Mary Morrow, neighbors who are thrown together because of their need for companionship on the isolated Midwest plains in the early 20th century. In it we hear out-of-tune piano music in a tiny church; we smell the blood of the slaughtered sow; we feel the singe of a prairie fire. The birth of a child, the harvest of a crop, a successful batch of pancakes - nothing could be taken for granted for these women.

For those of us accustomed to supermarkets, air conditioners and cell phones, it is an uncomfortable read. Convenience and connectedness were hard to come by the characters in Michelle Hoover's story. However, the deeper I dove into The Quickening, the more I realized the story was real and profoundly important. I couldn't stop turning the pages of this exquisitely written novel. I deeply respect Ms. Hoover's courage in telling a tale of isolation, loss, betrayal and desperation on the unforgiving land her characters long to tame.

Most highly recommended. An excellent book for book club discussions.
Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Green VINE VOICE on June 28, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Quickening," Michelle Hoover's debut novel, is absolutely stunning, a unique and tragic and heartbreaking story, told in the alternating voices of Enidina and Mary, "neighbors," if you will, on adjoining farms in the Midwest, the actual location never named, but, no matter; from the start, the year 1915, and to the end, l950, the reader is introduced to these two women and the reluctant relationship the one forms with the other. Enidina, keeping a journal that might one day enlighten a grandson she has never known, a grandson who might not even have survived his birth but for whom she "searches" in the faces of children of his approximate age, details her story, through the author's hand, portraying a life of hardship, personal sacrifice, the intense labor of making a go of something in the farmlands of the Midwest. On finishing the book, I looked back to find a few lines that struck me in particular, when Enidina writes, "My boy, you may not understand how awful this waiting (for the birth of a child) was. In those years, you never could be sure of a child, no matter how soon in coming. And you never took for granted what a birth might cost the mother herself." In gorgeous story-telling and drawing on a journal kept by her own great-grandmother, Michelle brings to life a time and a place, and peoples the landscape with such memorable characters. Today it's easy to lose sight, with all we have, with all we take for granted, of just how difficult it was, beginning a life with little and working so hard to make a life of some profit and comfort. The setbacks, the heartbreak, those rarer moments of joy...they are all here for the reader to not so much "enjoy" but to learn from. I wonder...could there be a prequel or a sequel, somehow, for, in typing this review, I'm reluctant to let it all go. You've provided a remarkable reading experience for us, Michelle Hoover. I, for one, look forward to what comes next.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Page Turner on July 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Enidina Current and Mary Morrow are farm wives and neighbors separated by more than fences that define a common property line. In the rural and sparsely settled mid-west early in the last century the two women are destined to endure a troubled relationship for some thirty-seven-years.

City-born Mary is unsuited for farm life--shocked in fact at the beginning of her marriage that her quick-to-anger husband has brought her to such a place. Enidina, however, is a large, sturdy woman who has known nothing else her entire life and is grateful that she and her husband are able to own their own farm. Neither woman understands the other. And yet, without other close neighbors, they are thrown together and at times must rely on one another.

Enidina, blessed with a loving husband is content, especially when she gives birth to twins after several miscarriages. Mary, however, is never truly happy. Already the mother of two young sons when the novel begins, Mary's past holds secrets from childhood that strain her marriage. When she gives birth to a third son, fathered not by her husband but by the local minister, her marriage suffers and her husband's temper flares often.

Real trouble begins between the families during the depression years with government price-support programs causing the disposal of healthy livestock. But worse is to come, resulting in heartbreak for both women and due in large part to Mary's misguided effort to clear her youngest son of responsibility for a tragic accident.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. The premise of two women, so different, thrown together but never true friends is an appealing idea for a book. Add the period spanning the depression era and it was a novel I couldn't resist.
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