Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I didn't read this as a child and, in some ways, I think that's a good thing. I think there are elements of it that would lack the poignancy and depth that they have for an adult reader. I shared this one, a few years ago, with my aunts, Edna and Frances, and they both adored it, too. I don't want to give a synopsis but it concerns the Nolan family (Johnny, Katie and their children, Francie and Neeley) and their lives in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. One of the things that strikes me every time I revisit it is the skill with which Smith not only recreates a very specific time and place but, also, the dynamics of what we would probably label a dysfunctional family today. Yet, the Nolans not only survive poverty but manage to surmount it with love and ingenuity. There's a recognition that their deprivations and the sacrifices they have to make contribute to, rather than detract from, their lives and their strength as a family. Near the end of the book, when the mother is going to remarry and Francie and Neeley realize they won't be poor any longer, that their infant sister will grow up in a very different home than they had:
" 'Laurie's going to have a mighty easy life all right.'
'Annie Laurie McShane! She'll never have the hard times
we had, will she?' 'No. And she'll never have the fun
we had, either.'"
Re-reading it this time, I also found a great deal of truth in the relationship between Katie and Francie. There's a very real, very sad quality to their inability to move beyond what is, really, a deep similarity in their characters as well as Katie's favoritism for her son. Both recognize this fundamental alikeness at different points in the novel as well as Katie's preferential treatment of Neeley yet, in the way of we humans, both also acknowledge their inability to change who they are and how they feel. Katie does offer Francie love to the best of her ability and doesn't attempt to hide the harshness of life from her, feeling that Francie's strength and survival instinct will see her through.

There's simply so much beauty in this book. It'd take me forever to go through all the wisdom it holds. And, each time I read it, I pick out a different favorite part. This time, the prize goes to advice Francie gets from her grandmother.
"What had granma Mary Rommely said? 'To look at
everything always as though you were seeing it
either for the first or last time: Thus is your
time on earth filled with glory.' "

1 comment:

  1. I have not read that book in like, forever. Perhaps I should revisit but ahhhhh, the list is long in front of it!!! :)