"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Classics Club Spin: The Yearling, a review.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Since that date school children everywhere have read and loved the book, or struggled through it, I imagine.

The summary of this classic novel on Shmoop is tongue-in-cheek, "The Yearling is nothing more than your classic 'Boy Meets Deer, Deer Eats Boy's Family's Corn, Boy Shoots Deer' story. What more is there to say?" There actually is a lot more to say, as Shmoop admits in their next paragraph. It is the story of a young, lonely boy, Jody Baxter, who lives with his parents in the scrub land of Florida some time after the Civil War. His family is impossibly poor and they are eking out an existence on what they can grow and hunt. Jody is very lonely even though he and his father work together every day on most tasks. If only he could have a bear cub, a baby raccoon, or a deer for a pet, he thinks he won't be so lonely. The odd thing is he never wishes for a puppy or a dog. A dog makes sense to me as a pet, not a wild animal. The book covers the themes of coming-of-age, adventure (bear hunts), survival (poisonous snakes, storms), death, and family loyalty.

The author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, referred to her book as a "brief and tragic idyll of boyhood." It certainly was a year when Jody Baxter moved from boyhood to manhood. In the first chapter of the book Jody builds himself a little toy flutter by the creek and lays in the dirt to watch it spin. This scene sets the stage for the reader's understanding of what a boy Jody was at the time. playing alone, When he should have been working by hoeing the field, he was enjoying a moment of childish reverie. In the last chapter, after the difficult year, Jody once again stops by the creek and makes a toy flutter but this time it has lost all its magic for him. Rawlings acknowledged her book was about a common literary theme, man adjusting to his physical environment. In her character Jody we find such wide-eyed awe and wonder. We see nature through the eyes of a twelve year old boy who is just waking up to its beauty. But nature isn't always beautiful and kind. It is often harsh and unrelenting and Jody learns this as the year progresses.

The setting in The Yearling, the scrub land of Florida is described beautifully by Rawlings. It is impossible to read this book and not to be able to picture the setting. Every blade of grass, pine tree, and swamp is so vivid through Rawlings' words. Rawlings, who lived in this part of Florida at the time, spent lots of time listening to the dialect of her neighbors also and included it in her novel as the speech patterns of the characters. I imagine children reading The Yearling today having difficulty with the language, which would be helped if portions were read aloud so they could hear the dialect.

Before Rawlings began writing The Yearling, her editor at Scribner, the legendary Maxwell Perkins, who was editor for Hemingway and Fitzgerald, proposed that she write a book that would appeal to readers young and old. "Measuring his words carefully, Rawlings replied, 'Do you realize how calmly you sit in your office and tell me to write a classic?' No doubt Perkins knew what he was looking for. What is remarkable is that Rawling delivered on his request" (from the book's Afterward). She did indeed write a classic. A book which has stood the test of time, in addition to winning all the accolades of its day by winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and having a movie made from its pages.

Lois Lowry, the author of The Giver, remembered her first experience with The Yearling as "the first time I slid so effortlessly into the landscape of a novel." She has returned to the book time and again even as she became a celebrated author herself. Many other authors identify The Yearling as their favorite novel from their childhood (NEA). I am not sure I would consider this book a personal favorite but I certainly recognize its brilliance. Parts of it really bugged me, the killing of predator animals especially, but I had to remind myself when this book was written and the abject poverty of the characters. The ending is so sad and poignant. Jody is forced to kill his pet and in the process he is forced to grow up. Sadly, all of us have to pass through childhood and have to confront our lives as adults. "Somewhere beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and his yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever." Doesn't that just make you want to weep? Not for Jody, but for yourself by remembering the carefree days of your own childhood replaced by the responsibilities of adulthood?

Brilliant, simply brilliant.
A Women's Classic Literature selection

A Classics Club Spin selection

Edition: Rawlings, Majorie Kinnan. The Yearling. Reader's Digest: Pleasantville, N.Y., 1993.

13 comments:

  1. You write so beautifully Anne:) I recall reading the book as a boy. Back then we lived in the woods with hunting ect. so I don't recall being disturbed by any content. As I age I think it may be too sad for my adult sensitive soul to read again now. I don't think I could even handle the movie. Too close to my life as a kid. Perhaps? that is also because, since the reading the book in my youth, it is in small part a reflection upon how my life has changed over the years?? I get softer as I age:)

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  2. Thanks Tom for the compliment. I didn't know you lived in the woods when you were young. I think the book would settle differently for you now compared to yesteryear but I think you would, as an adult, appreciate the excellent writing. Thanks for leaving a comment. Welcome to HeadFullofBooks!

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  3. I'm ticked that the boy was forced to kill his pet. Ugh I'm not sure I could read it. The parents seem so unreasonable. I know they're poor but gosh it's so bleak. I like all the details you cite in your review about Maxwell Perkins and what Rawlings thought of her book. great review!

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    1. The reader is set up for the inevitable ending. It is still rough, though.

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  4. I remember having kind of a love-hate thing with this book as a kid. I usually avoided dead-pet books, but the world the book depicts was so fascinating. In retrospect, it kind of cracks me up how unbothered I was by dialect and archaic turns of phrase--obviously spent way too much time with my nose in a book.

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  5. What a great review, Anne! I especially like how you touch on the setting and the themes. The background information is so interesting ..... it's fascinating to learn what drives an author to write a novel. I can't imagine that Rawlings felt like she had to write a classic before she even started!

    I read The Yearling when I was a child, but it's been so long since I've visited it. After reading your review, I feel encouraged to do so again!

    All the best!

    ~ Cleo ~

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I did find Rawlings an interesting character in and of herself and read a bit about her. She apparently died young(ish) and didn't live a particularly happy life. It seems that is the case with many of the best authors.

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  6. I must admit that I have never even heard of this author, so I'm grateful to you for filling in the gap in my knowledge. I love being able to picture the scenery from descriptions so it sounds like a book I would enjoy reading, despite the sad ending.

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    1. Read it, if for no other reason than it is a classic which has stood the test of time.

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  7. It's been a long time since I've read this one but I recall enjoying it. It was investing in that it wasn't a boy and dog story but a boy and deer story. Shmoop's synopsis cracks me up. :)

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    1. I know that is what I thought, too. Why would a boy want a deer for a pert instead of a dog? Anyway, a dog story had been done so this one was a new story to be told.

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  8. What a beautiful review Anne.

    I thought I read this book when I was much younger, but now I think I may have it mixed up with My Friend Flicka in my mind.

    I often avoided sad animal stories as I got too upset (mum banned me from watching Lassie and Kimba the White Lion for this very reason!)

    Now beautiful writing and emotional complexity affect me just as much. This sounds like it could mess me up several different ways!!

    Thanks for stopping by & checking out my Pulitzer spin book too :-)

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  9. You write a lovely review! I really enjoyed what you said about being able to picture the landscape so well. I may want to read The Yearling just for that reason. The only author I've read that give me that sense of clarity and depth for the landscape is Willa Cather, and I just love everything she has written.

    I just finished reading Woman in White for my spin selection and I still have to write a review. I'm also reading the Annals by Tacitus for the list, but that's going pretty slowly - I'm excited to finally be at 70% completion. It's very interesting though, those ancient Romans were a violent bunch!

    Thanks for checking out my blog. I'll definitely be watching out for more of your reviews. :)

    Take care,
    Susan in Texas

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