Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just Read :: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

{I love the cover, don't you?}

Betty Smith is better known for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book I read and loved in high school, but last week, I came across Joy in the Morning.  Her female protagonists--both Francie Nolan and Annie McGrairy Brown--are voracious readers.  It's hard to ignore the similarities between Francie and Annie, who both educate themselves beyond their underprivileged backgrounds through books; however, while these characters are similar, their stories are told at entirely separate times.  While A Tree Grows in Brooklyn traces Francie through her teen years, Joy in the Morning introduces Annie on her wedding day, just four days past her eighteenth birthday, in September of 1927.

The narrative follows Annie and Carl through a difficult first year of marriage.  They have no money, Annie has no education past eighth grade, Carl is two years from graduating with a law degree, and they are both in the midwest, far from their semi-dysfunctional families in Brooklyn.  The majority of the novel is told in short episodes (usually just the narration of a day and a night, or occasionally several days at a time) in which Annie and Carl encounter some sort of trial, such as a shortage of money for food, and then find some sort of delivery, like when Carl is offered rent-free living in exchange for maintenance and they can use their money for food.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons, but in particular, I loved that it is a story of a young marriage succeeding in spite of all the difficulties life can create.  As a pretty young (twenty-two) newlywed, who was crazy enough to marry before her husband finished college (and before she graduated), I'm always grateful to find novels--outside the romance genre, which I don't read--that are, well, pro-marriage, for lack of a better phrase.  A lot of things I read are full of turbulent relationships, difficult marriages, and an occasional dose of unrequited love, so it's refreshing to read something different, particularly from a strong female author.  

I do wonder what happened next; the novel closes in 1929, and I believe we all know what happened that year.  Furthermore, much of the novel reflects Smith's own life.  She, too, did not finish high school as a teen, married a law student, and moved to the midwest with him, where they lived until their divorce in 1938.  However, since Joy in the Morning was written in 1963, twenty-five years after she remarried, I can't help but think that she is still optimistic about Annie and Carl's future when the novel draws to a close.  The tone is too hopeful and too happy to think otherwise, and the newlyweds have fought through difficulties and reaffirmed their love thoroughly enough to believe that the best is actually yet to come.

I will say that this novel is not incredibly innovative, nor is its prose particularly remarkable, but because Smith's narrative focus is almost entirely shaped by Annie's perspective, the novel is wonderfully sweet.  Annie is the epitome of endearing, and because we see almost everything through her eyes, despite the third person perspective, we have to hope with her, and laugh, and even get a little choked up with her.  This is a quick and easy read, so if you're looking for something sweet, romantic, and still clearly honest, it's a good choice.  It's also old enough that you can probably pick up a used copy like mine for about two dollars.  Inexpensive and enjoyable reads are one of the best things in life--at least for me!

If you can't find a copy at your local bookstore, you can order it here.

1 comment:

Aimee said...

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