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The Able McLaughlins Paperback – April 1, 2007
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from the-dust jacket-of the first edition:
"The Able McLaughlins, Scotch Covenanters, devoted to one another, deeply pious, but humor-loving and full of the emotion and sentiment which exists under the craggy Scotch exterior, are leaders in a pioneer Iowa community, Isobel McLaughlin, mother of ten, and Wully, the oldest son, are characters in whom one feels the spirit and intelligence and dauntless courage that carved out our Western States. The story is Wully's -- his wooing, his bride, his home building and the fine triumphant victory to which the end of the book brings him."
The Able McLaughlins won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1924.
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The primary characters are Wully McLaughlin, a young man of rather heroic stature and temperament, and his love interest, Chirstie (I assume it's pronounced Kirstie) McNair. Upon returning home from war, Wully falls head over heels for Chirstie and it seems apparent that she is in love with him as well, but Chirstie (and therefore Wully) is beset by some serious difficulties that prevent the two from being together during the first portion of the book. These problems are overcome, eventually, but that is a process that takes the entire book. At times I thought the characters behaved with a little too much melodrama, but I think this was a reflection of the era and probably not too far off base. A concurrent theme of Alex McNair's feisty little wife, imported recently from Scotland, adds some really great comic relief.
There is a definite moralistic tone (forgiveness) to the book but it is gracefully and lightly handled. The writing is absorbing and well-paced, although at times I wanted to skip ahead a page or two. Overall, the character development is very well done and the story is a good one.
Well written and interesting.
A story of America. A story of hard work and prosperity. A love story.
Good book, four stars.
But, as it turned out, I judged The Able McLaughlins too fast.
The novel takes place in a midwestern Scottish farming community during the 1860s. The McLaughlin family's oldest son Wully has just returned from the Civil War ready to marry his sweetheart Chirstie McNair. But for some reason, she won't talk to him, and, worse yet, she won't tell him why. Wully is hurt and confused until he finds out the cause of her rejection and the terrible secret she’s been harboring. The rest of the novel is about the effect Chirstie's secret has not only on her and Wully, but on the entire community.
This is a simple, highly accessible novel. Some have called it melodramatic, and I get that, but for me, the word "sentimental" does a better job of describing it. Wilson's depiction of life on the prairie owes a lot to Willa Cather, and while the characters aren't nearly as complex and interesting as those seen in Cather's work, Wilson clearly loves them, and does a great job celebrating the simple life they lead.
Ultimately, this is a book in praise of everything good that humanity has to offer. The last 30 pages had me riveted and I wasn't sure how Wilson was going to end it, but she clearly comes down on the side of generosity and grace in a way that feels truly life affirming.
There are no complicated metaphors here, no symbolism, no subtlety. Yet this small, sweet story still has a lot to offer.
I think mostly I just found it hard to care much about the scandal of Wully's beloved (that became his beloved over the course of a few hours total...) getting knocked up by another dude. Very vague on if she was raped, coerced, or just made a poor decision, because, of course, heaven forbid they actually discuss the issue directly. I found Christie to be very uninteresting, and kind of annoying. Her step-mom was super awesome though.
A bit all over the place with this one. Didn't feel all that memorable, but not a bad read overall.
Most recent customer reviews
I thought the story was okay, and the reading was not difficult. But, it is a story of Wully and Chirstie. Chirstie!Read more