Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Woman's Place by Lynn Austin

publisher: Bethany House

I am a huge Lynn Austin fan. I think she is one of the best novelists in the market and this is yet more evidence that she has strength and conviction as a faith-based writer.

A Woman's Place follows four women: Helen, Jean, Rosa and Ginnie --- all working Rosie-the-Riveter jobs in Northern Michigan during the Second World War. Each represents a different type likewise a different strength of woman: Rose is a fiery new wife of Italian origin who leaves Brooklyn to settle with her strict inlaws when her husband is shipped overseas; Helen is a middle-aged teacher and heir to a large fortune ---the only lasting member of a large family. Her past love life is explored and carries more than one surprise. If Rosa is the free-spirit, Helen is, at first glance, the stick-in-the-mud. Jean is a fresh-faced woman--- just 18 at the start of the novel, who yearns to go to college against the wishes of her All-American jock boyfriend. Her friendship with Earl the foreman at her ship-building factory job is the highlight of the novel; Ginnie is a stay-at-home mom whose war-time employment she hides from her keeping-up-with-the-Jones's huband. Ginnie yearns to discover that her value lay outside the conformity of a housewife ensconced in appearances of domestic norms. At one point, she is assured that the dog is the only member of the household who holds any affection for her.

The novel begins with a snapshot of the quartet in their respective pre-war lives nicely developing characters who will grow into dear friends as the pages progress. When the attack at Pearl Harbour hits, their lives are uprooted and the narrative continually rotates to each perspective of women-at-war.

The novel is at times funny, heartbreaking and warm. A scene where Rosa accidentaly spikes the punch bowl with vodka intoxicating her mother-in-law's church women's group had me in stitches.

The structure of the novel also works extremely well. More and more I learn that structure is one of many of Austin's strong suits.

Structure and the development of complex themes and issues. The first, in this novel, being racial prejudice. Though an inadvertent victim of prejudice herself, Helen is quick to judge a German POW begging for her acceptance.... driving the consequence of bigotry close to home.

Earl and his factory workers become victim to acts of racial persecution when they stand up for a black female engineer and Jean discovers that hatred is sometimes harboured not a stone's throw from your front porch.

Above all, Austin tackles the established role of women: at home, at work and through a Christian lens.

Austin empowers women while allowing them to thrive in a domestic role. Her housewife, Ginnie, is not "tame", her middle-aged teacher is not silent and submissive and Rosa and Jean are in turn intellectual, passionate and strong: women who carve their own path----for whom life as a wife and mother is a result of choice and not standard trajectory.

I especially felt that Austin did not favour one type of woman; nor champion one choice. Instead she realistically provided four examples and let her readers discover the universal spark in each... no matter profession, ideal, family sitatuation....

With this, I expect every reader will discover a bit of each of this well-drawn quarted is housed in themselves.

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