Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Against the Odds: Tales of Achievement by L. M. Montgomery

What is the best antidote after a hopeless novel like Sister Carrie? Why, L. M. Montgomery, of course!

I didn't participate in the L. M. Montgomery Challenge at Reading to Know this year because the library did not co-operate with supplying the books I hoped to read. I had planned to read the Emily of New Moon series, but they only had the 2nd and 3rd books, not the first one, which was no good. So I put a hold on this collection of short stories: Against The Odds: Tales of Achievement. Unfortunately, it wasn't available until February - too late for the challenge. At least the timing was just right to restore my hopes for North American authors after my disappointment with Dreiser.

Whatever Dreiser's characters lacked in strength of character, determination, honor, or good old-fashioned work ethic, L. M. Montgomery finds in abundance in these short stories that span Canada from Prince Edward Island to Saskatchewan. For some reason, I don't often read short stories, but I was not disappointed with these. They are as charming, funny, and insightful as any of Montgomery's other fiction, and I am amazed at how she can capture characters so memorably in just a few pages. Her picturesque descriptions, though not as extensive as in the Anne books, transports one to the location and setting, making it easy to imagine you are sitting on the front porch or traversing the wilderness.

Here are some of my favorite bits from a few of these stories.

from "The Fillmore Elderberries":
"Ellis did hold out. The elderberries tried to hold out too, but they were no match for the lad's perseverance. It was a hard piece of work, however, and Ellis never forgot it. Week after week he toiled in the hot summer sun, digging, cutting, and dragging out roots. The job seemed endless, and his progress each day was discouragingly slow." (34)

from "Dorinda's Desperate Deed":
"But now Dorinda had come back to the little white house on the hill at Willowdale, set back from the road in a smother of apple trees and vines...Dorinda and her mother talked matters out fully one afternoon over their sewing, in the sunny south room where the winds got lost among the vines halfway through the open window." (39-40)

from "The Genesis of the Doughnut Club":
"...talk as you like, you can't preach much good into a boy if he's got an aching void in his stomach. Fill that up with tasty victuals, and then you can do something with his spiritual nature. If a boy is well stuffed with good things and then won't listen to advice, you might as well stop wasting your breath on him, because there is something radically wrong with him. Probably his grandfather had dyspepsia. And a dyspeptic ancestor is worse for a boy than predestination, in my opinion." (51)

"You see Providence did answer my prayers in spite of my lack of faith; but of course He used means, and that Thanksgiving dinner of mine was the earthly instrument of it all." (56)

The theology might be lacking a bit in the dyspepsia comments, but it still made me laugh! And lest one think that a "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" attitude is biblical, the latter quote gives a good perspective on providence and human responsibility.

from "At the Bay Shore Farm":
"They talked longer - an earnest, helpful talk that went far to inspire Frances's hazy ambition with a definite purpose. She understood that she must not write merely to win fame for herself or even for the higher motive of pure pleasure in her work. She must aim, however humbly, to help her readers to higher planes of thought and endeavor. Then and only then would it be worthwhile." (78-79)

Perhaps that last quote aptly summarizes what I found lacking in Sister Carrie. Dreiser's novel can certainly serve as a warning against a complacent lifestyle and lack of morals, but it does not offer any positive alternative.


M said...

I have all three Emily books if you want to borrow them!


Carrie said...

Well, HEY! =D I'm impressed that you went ahead and read it anyway!

I'm glad you weren't disappointed.

Page Turner said...

M ~ if only I had known...

Carrie ~ Can one ever be disappointed with Montgomery? Well, I suppose it's possible, but it hasn't happened to me yet. I'll be better prepared for next year, and I'm definitely in for the Narnia challenge this summer!

hopeinbrazil said...

I thought it was interesting how you compared this book to Dreiser's. Sister Carrie sounds totally depressing! I don't mind a sad book in which the lead characters experience a lot of difficulties, BUT I do like to see growth, maturity and hope.

Sherry said...

Thanks for participating in the Saturday Review at Semicolon.

If you're a poetry lover, I'd like to invite you (and your readers) to participate in the poetry survey that I'm doing. I'm looking for your ten favorite classic poems. Read more about it here.