A few weeks ago I read Abide With Me, by Elizabeth Strout, who did such a terrific job with her debut novel, Amy and Isabelle. I liked Abide With Me because it's such a quiet book, about quiet people living in rural Maine in 1959. A good book to read as the season finally turned chilly. The hero is the local pastor, Tyler Caskey, whose flashy wife has died a year before from cancer, leaving him alone with his kindergarten-aged daughter, while his frigid mother cares for his other daughter, a toddler.
Tyler is struggling with grief and loneliness and as he struggles with his interior life and loss of faith, fails to notice that his daughter Katherine is having some serious social issues herself at school. Katherine's general surliness toward her teacher and other adult women in town win her no favors, and soon gossip starts to spread as the women discuss how to solve the dual problem of both Katherine and her father -- Tyler's sermons, once so moving, have become dull and uninspiring, and the townsfolk seem to take this personally.
I myself might know a thing or two about women and our propensity toward gossip -- it's a vice, and like any vice, one feels guilty doing it, but can't quite stop -- like tearing through a whole box of chocolates when no one is watching, because it tastes so good -- but then you feel a little queasy and a lot regretful afterward.
One passage early in the book struck me, because it so perfectly describes the need that women --housewives in particular -- have to get together over coffee and just talk:
“A few women from the Ladies’ Aid were gathered for coffee in the living room of Jane Watson’s clean house. This kind of thing gave the women something to look forward to, especially now that the days were shorter and darker, and the boredom of changing sheets or cleaning a bathroom could sometimes mushroom into a private despair before noontime even arrived. Having coffee allowed the women to show off a new sweater, a clean house, exchange recipes, and swap the latest news….”
Yes, I thought , reading this. Yes, exactly. Would I even clean my house half as often or well if not for the occasional events and playgroups that I host here? I guess there's also some sort of social commentary inherent, too, in the fact that my own life can relate so well to a group of rural (albeit fictional) women from 1959. My life as a stay at home mom is not so very different from theirs, except for the key element of being able to choose this lifestyle, as opposed to not having any other options, which of course women in small town 1959 surely didn't have.
Some other time, I will write more about that choice I've made to be here during the day, but I can tell you now that sometimes it has less to do with the welfare of the children, and more to do with a much deeper appreciation for everyday, workaday domesticity -- the hum of the dryer running at noon, the late-morning news on TV, and yes, indeed, the coffee, and my own participation in the modern kaffe klatsch -- gossip and all.