Following up on the last post, we now move on to stories of families that are not doing so well. In these novels domesticity, which is supposed to foster “togetherness,” does nothing to promote intimacy. Some of the characters long to be closer to other family members. Others have no idea what they are missing. A few would like somehow to escape. All of the novels are written by women, and all provide a sharp contrast to the two books (Cress Delahanty and Mama’s Bank Account) by female authors in the Famous Fifty. Those two are short story collections, so it may be that when women writers use a longer form to describe family life, they find it more difficult to find nice things to say. Be that as it may, here are five novels of less than happy families:
1. Pity of God by Beulah Marie Dix. Members of a large family, most of whom are blindly dedicated to self-interest, gather for a holiday weekend. One of the great L. A. novels.
2. Under One Roof by Ruth Eleanor McKee. Propinquity has not led to closeness in another large suburban L. A. family, this one seemingly praiseworthy and contented.
3. Love Is a Place by Margaret Bridgman. A housewife in the Marin suburbs finds that marriage and children are not bringing the happiness she expected.
4. The Starling by Juliet Wilbor Tompkins. The daughter of an overbearing Berkeley professor struggles to achieve a sense of selfhood.
5. We Lived as Children by Kathryn Hulme. Divorce in a San Francisco family leads to confusion about the role of the departed father.
Of the five only The Starling dates from before 1924 and thus has passed into the public domain. The text can be downloaded or obtained in book form on demand. The other four are easily available through interlibrary loan. Buying them is another story. Very few copies are for sale at internet bookstores, and prices usually start above forty dollars. And don’t count on digitized versions any time soon. Thanks to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, none of the four books will enter the public domain until at least 2027.