I can't believe I hadn't read this before now.
I mean, I spent like 20 years trying to find the 1944 movie version after seeing part of it on TV when I was a teen. I knew it was an adaptation of a book. But I never tried to find the book until after they'd released the movie to DVD and I'd finally seen the whole thing. Silly me. All the years I've spent without this enriching experience!
Because wow, did I love this book. I also love the movie, but the book is even better. It's broader, and we get to hear the protag's thoughts and insights and feelings in such deep, compelling ways, which a movie can never match. (But the movie has Alan Ladd. No book can quite match that, either. However, he so precisely matched the book character that I had a very easy time imagining him while reading, which was most pleasant...)
And the writing! A slow, simmering feast, like a beef roast you've cooked for hours until it is tender and succulent, each bite filled with flavor and nutrition until it bursts. You'll see below how many passages struck me as so remarkable, I want to write them up and remember them.
And the love story! Understated, buried beneath layer after layer of dialog and action, but flaring out bright and sure by the end. I'm going to have to read this again just to study how Field managed to write it that way. There's no overt romance, just this slow realization of understanding, mutual compassion, and eventually attraction. Fascinating stuff.
I suppose I should tell you a little bit about the storyline itself at some point, shouldn't I? Since this isn't exactly a widely known book anymore. Wealthy Emily Blair grew up used to life unrolling smoothly before her. Life in Blairstown revolved around the mill her family owned and managed. Mill workers lived on one side of the river, the more well-to-do folks lived on the other, and the Blairs ruled everyone benevolently.
Then, Emily contracted meningitis when in her early 20s, and lost her hearing as a result. At the insistence of her family and her fiance, she traveled the country searching for a cure, but to no avail. So she returned home determined to get married and make the best of things. She had learned to read lips very well, and could make her way in the world with some semblance of normalcy.
But she returned to find Blairstown a changed world. The Great Depression was just hitting the country, and the millworkers wanted to organize a union, were resisting pay cuts, and everything was generally tense and unpleasant. Also, Emily's fiance Jeff kept putting off the wedding, saying they needed to wait until things at the mill settled down.
In the midst of all this chaos and unwelcome change, a young doctor named Merek Vance entered Emily's life. He had formerly found great success in restoring hearing loss through a serum he had created, and he wanted to try it on Emily. She refused. Then she agreed. And the once-predictable course of her life was changed forever.
I did something with this book that I truly never do. I flipped to the end and read it before I got through the first chapter. I basically never read the ending of a book first. Never. I consider it cheating. However, the beginning chapter or two made it sound as if Emily was NOT going to end up marrying the person she ends up with in the movie, and if that had been so in the book, I knew I would have thrown it across the room in disgust (even though my copy is 50 years old) and been annoyed with the world for days.
That doesn't mean the movie didn't make any changes from the book. They trimmed all the unionizing of the mill right out, along with an entire important character, which makes sense since the movie was made during WWII and the country was doing its best to forget the Great Depression altogether. Also, all my favorite lines from the movie are not in the book, so I can now lay them squarely to the credit of my beloved Raymond Chandler, who co-write the screenplay. But a lot of the stuff with the mill workers reminded me or Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, only in the 20th century, which made it especially interesting to me.
I'm counting this for the Classics Club because it fits my criteria of being more than 50 years old, well-known, and being written by a well-known author who influenced other writers and/or society. And Now Tomorrow was published in 1942, the year that Field died, so it's certainly old enough. Not only was it a best-seller at the time, but of course, Rachel Field had previously won the Newbery Award for Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, and she posthumously received the Caldecott Medal for Prayer for a Child.
Particularly Good Bits:
There is a fascination in places that hold our past in safe keeping. We are drawn to them, often against our will. For the past is a shadow grown greater than its substance, and shadows have power to mock and betray us to the end of our days (p. 1).
In the life of each of us, I told myself, there comes a time when we must pause to look back and see by what straight or twisting ways we have arrived at the place where we find ourselves. Instinct is not enough, and even hope is not enough. We must have eyes to see where we missed this turn or that, and where we struggled through dark thickets that threatened to confound us (p. 4-5).
...that was the trouble with small towns, one was too much a part of them ever to escape from one's self (p. 89).
"Always on the go, you young people," she reproved across the silver coffee service. "No stability or sense about you. It's as if you were all too busy tracking down happiness ever to meet up with it" (p. 222).
No hardy perennial has the enduring quality of hope. Cut it to the rots, stamp it underfoot, let frost and fire work their will, and still some valiant shoot will push, to grow again on such scanty fare as it can find (p. 241).
In the adult world to which I suddenly realized we all belonged, I supposed a triangle would be substituted for the outline of a heart. Well, after all, what was a triangle but a heart with the grace taken out of it? (p. 255)
Memories will withdraw into their right perspective if we let them have their way (p. 350).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild curse words.
This is my 39th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 7th for the Women's Classic Literature Event.