Saturday 30 May 2020

THREADS by Charlotte Whitney

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: it was submitted to Rosie's Book Review Team, of which I am a member.

In a Nutshell: Family drama set in 1930s rural Michigan

Threads is a set on a farm in Michigan during the Depression, about a family struggling to survive.  The novel is told in alternating first person points of view of the three daughters: Flora, who is seventeen, Nellie, the youngest, who is seven, and Irene, somewhere in the middle.  Nellie is a tad wild, with a vivid imagination; Irene is a rather smug goody-goody on the surface, but is clearly suffering from 'middle-child syndrome', while Flora is very much the 'big sister', nearly an adult, who sees how the world works outside the concerns of the other two.  Each sister's character is clearly defined, with her own distinctive voice.

The novel is primarily concerned with the way of life of that place and time; it is character rather than plot-driven, an illustration of the family's immediate world and their fears, joys and struggles.  These people were POOR.  If you've never dined on potatoes every night, or looked on a bean sandwich as a treat, you should never think of yourself as hard-up again!  Within the girls' narratives, Ms Whitney has shown us a bigger picture of the country in the 1930s; they tell of the 'train riders'; unemployed, itinerant young men who travelled the country by stowing away on trains, begging for food wherever they stopped.  The way the community pitched in to help each other.  The fears that consumed them all; if they couldn't sell enough produce, they would lose their homes.

I found Flora's chapters the most interesting as her thoughts concerned not just her own, insular world (what happened at school, etc) but that bigger picture.  On occasion, though, Irene and Nellie's childlike viewpoints skillfully revealed much more.

If I have any criticism, it's that I would have liked a bit more actual plot; events coming to a climax and then being resolved, at some point.  There is a little mystery concerning an event from the first chapter which is not solved until the end, but I felt there were missed opportunities to make the story more of a page-turner.  However, I did enjoy it, throughout, and would most certainly recommend it as an insightful and highly readable look at this recent and still relevant time in America's history.