Monday, September 17, 2007

The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


The Baxter family lives and farms in an isolated backwater area of Florida, in the late 19th century. Jody Baxter, the boy, adores and respects his father, Penny Baxter, and his greatest joy is found in going on the hunt with his father and listening to his enthralling tales of previous hunting exploits. Yet Jody, the only boy his age for miles, is lonely and longs for a close friend and companion of his own. When he discovers an orphaned fawn, Jody persuades his parents to let him keep it as his own, and his hungry heart quickly finds joy and satiety in the young creature who accompanies him in his chores and in his frolicking and forest rambling.

The Yearling is a tale of rural life: planting and harvest, hunting, caring for livestock, weathering storms, trading in town, sharing yarns around the fire. My 21st-century mind is amazed at the work that was necessary just to survive! And at what simple things brought pleasure and excitement: storytelling, visiting neighbors, having that extra bit of money to buy that special thing in town.

The Yearling is also a tale of growing up, of the tug between clinging to boyhood freedom and innocence, and desiring to enter the realm of manhood (in particular, creating one’s own collection of exciting tales and exploits). Jody has two examples of grown manhood: his rough-riding, backwoods neighbors, the Forresters, whose tastes run to whisky and shooting at any creature that moves; and his father, Penny, a wise, gentle man with a great work ethic, great hunting skills, and great strength of character. While Flag, the fawn, is Jody’s source of joy, Penny is the pillar of strength and stability that upholds Jody through a year of ups and downs.

The writing in this novel is excellent: from its point of view (believable, consistent, and sympathetic), to its description of the characters and setting (visually lush and detailed), to the heavy dialect of the dialogue (at first difficult to read quickly), to the story arc (gentle and character-driven). All the characters are fully-fleshed, believable, and interesting; even the secondary characters, who have no journey of their own, are real and colorful. Penny Baxter is my favorite character, with his great tales inspiring and his gentle affirmation guiding his young son. There is a sweet irony in Penny, who is physically scrawny, but who has more wisdom, perseverance, iron tenacity, and strength of character than all the burly, dark-bearded Forresters combined.

This 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is masterful in its depiction of a way of life long gone, and in its simple celebration of hard work, family and friendship, and the innocence and ideals of youth.

5 Comments:

At 3:37 PM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

I'm still reading this one, but wow--so beautiful, so tangible. I thought I had read it, but I'm pretty sure it was a Reader's Digest Condensed version, and I'm also pretty sure I was too young to appreciate it. I'm very grateful for the encouragement to pick it up again!

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger elrj said...

Hey, not to not have read your review A, but has anyone read this?
Laura Jensen Walker's 'Dreaming in Technicolour'
Is it any good?

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

OK, now that I've finished it, I was struck by more than the coming-of-age story from Jody's perspective. I'm starting to read children's books as a parent, and better understand what the parents had to go through. Penny had his own coming of age. He'd tried to protect Jody from the harshness of the life he'd known growing up; tried to hold back from requiring a man's work of him. But eventually Penny had to let go and let Jody grow up. In its way, it was as astonishing a transformation as it was for Jody.

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger elrj said...

Oh, and I think we should read this: The Invisible Woman.
Read more here:
http://www.parenthood.com/articles.html?article_id=10240

Anyone? this could be interesting...

 
At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what age group is this? My son wants to read it and I don't know with 10 that The Yearling would be a good book for him.

 

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