Aug 14, 2009

Maggie-Now

by Betty Smith

I am glad I finally got around to reading Maggie-Now. Like Smith's other novels, it is set in Brooklyn during the early 1900's. The story begins with Patsy, an Irish immigrant who married the daughter of the house where he worked as a stable boy in New York. Their first daughter was Maggie. But the mother was frail and died giving birth to her next child, a son. So Maggie spent her childhood raising her younger brother. She was not particularly intelligent but honest, generous and good at heart. She passed up a chance to marry a well-respected boy because she fell in love with a handsome stranger, who flattered and charmed her. None of her family liked Claude, who consistently dodged questions about his family and his past. After they were married, Claude took to disappearing every spring, coming home in winter and never telling where he'd gone. Maggie patiently waited for him every year, bearing the suspicions of family and neighbors, filling her days with caring for others. When I told my husband part of the story he laughed and said: "I know where he goes!" suspecting the guy had another family, a secret second life. But it turned out to be something quite different, after all.

This is a quiet story. It tells about ordinary people, who never do anything particularly spectacular. It shows how they live day-to-day (interesting in a historical sense), how Maggie and all those of her family connect to each other, reach out to their neighbors, influence and touch each other with their lives. In many ways the story is unbearably sad, ironic and unfulfilling. All Maggie wants is to pour herself into others, to care for them and feel needed. And yet the man she loves most always leaves her behind, and keeps secrets from her. Patsy's sole aim in life appears to be making others miserable, yet at the end it seems he really did hold some grudging respect for the man his daughter loved- either that, or his last act (in the novel) was pure spite to poke a finger in her misery. I'll never understand it, but that's what compels me about the story.

This isn't as wonderful as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (one of my favorite books) but it's still a good read. I had a copy of another Betty Smith novel, Joy in the Morning, which I had trouble getting into and quit once. But Maggie-Now has made me want to try the others again. Her fourth book, which I haven't read yet, is Tomorrow Will Be Better.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 365 pages, 1958

More opinions at:
The Neglected Books Page
DomeToTome
anyone else?

8 comments:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds interesting and I do like a quiet story from time to time, but I think I'll start with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn if I read one of Smith's books.

Jeane said...

I think that's a great book to start with. I've read it four or five times, it's so good.

Bybee said...

I've read Joy In The Morning and Tree and liked them both. I think I'd like this one as well. Thanks for your review, and as always, thank you for this blog...I love it that you read older stuff. Coming here is like finding buried treasure.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This is like buried treasure. Keep reading the classics...maybe someday I can catch up, as I was classically neglected as a youth!

Hazra said...

I am seriously illiterate when it comes to pre-1980 books; I have read so few. This sounds like a nice look at how ordinary people live their lives

Anna said...

I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but I haven't read any of her other books. I'll have to give them a try.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Jeane said...

Bybee- I'm sure you would. Buried treasure is right- it was buried so long on my shelf, behind the newer books!

Sandy Nawrot- Thanks. I don't know if this book is considered as classic as Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but it's definitely one that should not be forgotten.

Hazra- Betty Smith's books are a good way to ease into reading about that time period. They're very- mellow, and picturesque, and poignant, all at the same time.

Anna- Just like me! I loved Tree for so long, now I feel guilty I haven't read any of the others. Maggie-Now was a start. I'm searching for more of her books now.

Cath said...

I've made a note of this one as I adored A Tree Grows in Brooklyn last year. I want to read more by Betty Smith and this one sounds like a lovely quiet read.