A very dense first novel by the writer Jean Stafford. Her next two novels will be relatively slim by comparison, and while I think this one should have been cut by about a 1/3 (I had some real fatigue by the end), it’s not bloated, but overly rich. It’s carefully and slowly wrought, and the background presented in the first section is very thoughtful and interesting, but by the time we get to the second half, it feels either somewhat immaterial to conclusion, or more interesting.
Sonia Marburg is the daughter of a German father and a Russian mother who on the boat the US after WWI. Sonia is born into their increasingly loveless home where the resentment and rage of two people who shared a powerful moment grow to hate each other. Her father resents giving up his class and profession and made to be a blue collar worker in the US and her mother is plagued by a kind of Russian wasting sickness. When her mother becomes pregnant with a second child when Sonie is around 10, her father bolts. That child becomes sick after a few years and Sonia’s reaction to her mother’s inertness leads to always want to bolt.
All that is simply the first half.
She’s sent to work for a rich family in Boston and is able to carve of a constant outsiderness to this family, never quite getting in, but also never quite getting afflicted with their own sickness.
Like I said, this is a long novel, over 500 pages, and it’s not really deserving of all those pages, but it is very good. It should not for one moment be understood that Stafford isn’t a masterful writer, but the novel collapses in upon it’s own weight by the end.