The sixth installment in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries series ONE MINUS ONE was originally published in 1971 and is set a couple of years earlier apparently around 1969. The novel tells the story in first person of a young woman named Emily. Emily is thirty and a childless housewife/unpublished author who is left desolate when her teacher husband divorces her for the high school guidance counselor. She dusts off her own teaching credentials and finds a job in another part of her home state of New Hampshire teaching English. During her first year in the new area she dates two local men one of whom dumps her for a younger woman and one who is a nice guy who wants to marry her. But Emily is still "stuck" on her ex-husband and her life with him. Will she be able to move forward with her life?
This is a character driven novel and readers not even born when it was first published will be able to relate to Emily, her friends, family and problems. The book also stands as a genuine slice of small town New England in the late 1960's. Many readers may smile when they see the salaries the characters were earning in that era, the prices paid for many items in those times or the excitement Emily and her roommates express when their new apartment has avocado colored appliances. The importance of television and television commercials to the characters is often referenced. Some readers may also want to force the cigarettes Emily and her fellow teachers are constantly smoking (even in the teacher's lounge at school) out of their hands. Like all the volumes in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries the book begins with a thoughtful introduction that includes why it was chosen to be reissued for the series and ends with a few discussion questions as well as several suggestions for further reading. I plan to continue to read all of Nancy Pearl's choices for Book Lust Rediscoveries and though I missed the one preceding ONE MINUS ONE, THE COWBOY AND THE COSSACK it is now loaded on to my Kindle.
I love Nancy Pearl and have read many good books on her recommendations but this one is a head scratcher. Emily is divorced, pining for the husband who left her for another woman, and trying to make a life for herself as an English teacher in a small town.
But for someone this provincial, she thinks and talks like a much more experienced woman, something hard to find in 1969. I kept waiting for the point of it all, but it was just one long boring depiction of her sad life and her inability to move on.
But you, dear reader, SHOULD move on.
In Nancy Pearl's introduction to "One Minus One", she writes, "... there are four main doorways through which one can enter (or be drawn into) a work of fiction: story, character, setting and language." Pearl cites character as her "dominant doorway", so it's not astonishing that she likes Ruth Doan MacDougall's works so much - at least if One Minus One is an example.
The story of Emily Bean, newly divorced, resonated with me in some regards as it made me think of my own divorce some 27 years ago. Many of the emotions Emily feels are those I recall, not without some pain. That the story takes place in my neck of the woods, more or less, gave it some added relevance, though all of the towns where action takes place are fictional, and while the area of the story is allegedly near the southern New Hampshire seacoast, the flavor of the towns, architecture and people are solidly northern NH.
While I thought the writing was strong, and the characters definitely brought to life on the pages, I could not help but get irritated at Emily and her inability to let her failed marriage go. Obviously this bothered Nancy Pearl as well, as she alludes to it in her introduction. After I read the book I passed it on to my wife, who grew up in northern NH - she not only was annoyed with Emily, saying that she needed a therapist, she also found the depiction of the people and landscape a bit too "close to home" for her comfort.
"One Minus One" is a "slice of life" story - it doesn't really go anywhere, the characters don't grow and nothing gets resolved. Such stories are not my favorites, but they can be good if they're done right. I might have liked it better if I could muster some sympathy for the protagonist - but I couldn't.
on February 27, 2013
Ruth Doan MacDougall has been widely acclaimed as a regional writer for novels set in her native New Hampshire but she should also be recognized as a faithful social historian. The recently reissued One Minus One is a perfect "slice of life" of a time marked by radical change on the domestic scene as well as national and world affairs. Written in MacDougall's characteristically intimate, personal style, the reader lives her heroine's life on every page.
Emily Bean, unprepared for the divorce her husband initiated, leaves the town where they lived, resumes her maiden name, gets a teaching job, and begins everything anew. She is unwittingly a poster child for the "new" woman. Divorce is becoming an accepted way of life and the sexual revolution has reached even small town New Hampshire. As she establishes herself in her new life Emily is finally able to turn away from the old and leave her ex-husband behind.
The 60's and 70's were years of some of public education's greatest progress and achievements Baby boomers were hitting high schools. Teaching jobs were plentiful and finally beginning to pay livable wages. College educated men and women had their pick of jobs as Cliff does. More women were teaching in high schools and teaching math and science, not just typing and home economics. Emily's experiences were being duplicated all across the country.
For those who lived through these years One Minus One is pure nostalgia. For younger readers it should be a learning experience.
Like other works in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries, One Minus One (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries) is more about the inner journey of the characters than it is about the plot. Nancy Pearl has shown a lot of courage in choosing this book for inclusion in her series. This novel is perhaps too nuanced and inaccessible to be palatable for a mass audience. That's unfortunate, because I fear that yet another good book is doomed to be under-appreciated.
Our protagonist is in a fog after the loss of her marriage. She attempts to fill the void in her life with stimulants, depressants, distractions and relationships of convenience. The results are bound to be depressing for anybody who has ever felt alone, or who has ever seen neediness exploited. But the other side of that coin is that she does get through it one day at a time. In that sense, there are small victories in all of the seemingly pointless things she does to keep her lost love off her mind.
McDougall succeeds in capturing both the era (the late 60s and early 70s) and the place (coastal New Hampshire) as key elements in this story. As the protagonist is forced to change, the world and the place she inhabits are changing too.
This book made me think of the title novella from Jane Smiley's The Age of Grief. While the relationship loss experienced in that story is different, it captures a similar feeling: loving somebody long after they have stopped loving you in the same way. There are similar elements in Larry McMurtry's well known Terms of Endearment: A Novel. These stories are more easily appreciated by people who are painfully familiar with heartbreak and disappointment.
If there is a criticism I can make of this book, it is that some story elements seem random and go without resolution. A situation arises near the end of the story where the protagonist is put in danger. Afterwards, she doesn't seem to really want to deal with the danger she was in. I don't want to spoil the plot, but the event and the protagonist's reaction to it are both bizarre. While it does highlight the character's mental fog, I wonder if it really aided in the story's development.
If you care about people and how they feel and think, you will find a lot to be interested in here. But if you are looking for a plot-driven story to keep you entertained, you are bound to be disappointed by this book. This is a good book, albeit a depressing one. This will be a gratifying read for anybody who has ever lost the person that mattered most to them. It is not perfect, but it is worthy of reflection.
on May 15, 2013
This novel does chronicle a slice of life - its setting in chronology and geography. But I don't believe the feeling of ennui it portrays is representative of that time and place. I feel qualified to make such a judgment as it is my own time and place. This is not the first time I have read an obscure work that someone has tried later to rescue, only to decide that there is justification for it having faded into the literary mists. I would add a note of warning that the characters keep drinking and drinking, I mean alcohol. Was it really that bad back then?
The author portrays the young woman narrator as a person who doesn't seem to care about herself or much of anything or anyone else. She isn't very interested in her teaching career or her writing or mother or sister and so forth - she has no desire for "the bother of children". She has zero passion and lives safely, dependent on another person's energy, until that person, her husband, perhaps predictably finds someone else who is less of a nebbish. This is surprising to me as I too taught following college, and most of us with enough starch to control a classroom were not that lacking in self concept.
It isn't just the character I don't care for, it's also that the writing has no great value. There's nothing wrong with it but it is bland and to me lacks any outstanding descriptions or insights.
Maybe the author means readers to get exactly this picture or maybe she portrays herself. And maybe - just maybe - I am too close to time and place to see...
on March 2, 2013
I read One Minus One in the early 1970s, and loved it. At the time, I was married, with a young son, and - though I didn't know it - was soon to be clobbered by my husband telling me he was leaving me for another woman.
Now, forty years later, reading One Minus One again, I see how accurately Ruth MacDougall nailed what it was like to have your husband ditch you for another woman - to have your world fall apart, to be floundering, to be testing the dating waters again, to be worried about the future, to face being alone, to be devastated.
This novel captures not only what we who were brought up in the 1940s and 50s knew would be our lot (marriage, kids, homemaking, and some skills - or perhaps a teaching or nursing degree - in case we needed them to "fall back on"), but also the universality and the timelessness of Emily's agony.
Like all MacDougall's books, One Minus One is a page-turner, from start to finish. MacDougall lets Emily Bean tell her own story, and we identify with her immediately, cheering her on as she painfully purges her husband, David, gaining new knowledge and strength in the process. In the end we accept, even if a bit reluctantly, her final decision to move on.
Even in this early work, MacDougall's craftsmanship is impeccable, her story swiftly paced. She weaves the present and the past together seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, layering in rich detail throughout the novel.
on March 5, 2013
For over thirty years One Minus One has been one of my comfort books. I return to it when I want to dwell in a world other than my own. It instantly lets me spend a year with the newly divorced Emily Bean in a small town in the early 70's.
The world I escape to is Hull New Hampshire. Lums Hot Dogs, shag carpet, bomb threats, jogging and Miracle Mile's pave the landscape. Single DJ's, plain women who long to get married, frustrated women who are tired of being married, mothers raised with Yankee reserve and good guy English teachers help make up the population. Navigating all of this is Emily Bean, reluctantly beginning her new life of apartment living, high school teaching and the dating scene.
Ruth Doan Macdougall creates the most complex heroines using the fewest words of any writer I know and Emily is no exception. You will care about her instantly and watch her begin her new life with concern and ultimately cheers. Read this book for the nostalgia of the 70's, or read it for the history of the 70's, or even to confirm that women finding their way in the world varies little by decade and even generation.
Nancy Pearl probably had a difficult time choosing just one MacDougall novel to add to her Book Lust Rediscoveries series but she has made a wise choice. You won't regret the time you spend with Emily, plain Grace, bridezilla Kaykay, yankee mother Lucy, motherly Dot and Cliff, the good guy English teacher.
Emily Bean is left by her husband for another woman so she must make a new life. She takes a job as a high school English teacher. During this year of teaching there are two men that she becomes involved with, one she met on her way into town and he discards her for another woman. The other is the head of the English department and he offers to marry her.
I normally like character driven stories, but not this one. I just didn't like Emily and about half way through the book I thought to myself, where is this going? I kept reading to see if it went anywhere, it didn't. This is the first book I have read by this author, but I will not be looking for her again.
Emily thought that she was husband David's one true love until he informs her that he wants a divorce so he can marry another woman. Whats a traditional 30-year old to do when her life comes crashing down around her in the middle of the sexual revolution? The year is 1969 and Emily decides to more to a small northeastern town to teach, where she meets two different men in her quest to move on. But does she really move on when she compares everyone to David?
I found this story extremely difficult to get into - perhaps it is the age of the story - penned originally in 1971, it just seems dated and meandering. After awhile, I could care less about the main character, praying for the story to end.