Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So Big by Enda Ferber

So Big
by Edna Ferber
1925 Pulitzer Prize
5 stars - great book, will read again

I've read Enda Ferber's novel of Texas, Giant, many times, but for reasons unknown, it never occurred to me to try any of her other books. So when her name popped up as next in line on my list of Pulitzer novels, I was juiced (in a sedate, nerdy, library junky kind of way).

I enjoy books that exam ordinary lives (well, interspersed with exciting books where things happen on every page). So Big is about the life of Selina Peake DeJong, daughter of a professional gambler. After her father's death, Selina leaves Chicago at the age of nineteen to begin a new adventure in life. She is armed with the optimism of youth that life is a grand enterprise and that all sorts of wonderful things will happen (some good, some bad, but every one noteworthy). 

Before long she is married to an Illinois vegetable farmer and her life is an endless cycle of running a farm and household near the turn of the century. The idea of being totally consumed by the day to day is timeless. While I don't have to drive goods to market, wash clothes by hand, or spend hours toiling in the field, I still feel that the ordeal of "just keeping up" is overwhelming most of the time (will generations to come read about the early 21st century and tsk tsk over how much time was spent in tasks that are no longer a bother, one wonders).

But Selina faces the reality of her life with calm resolve and gets genuine pleasure from it. Let's face it, most of us will toil away in obscurity and, in the absence of a biographer, fade into oblivion, remembered by a scant few, after our passing. If we are lucky, our lives will be, to us, fascinating, interesting, sometimes dull, but always worth having. Ms. Ferber is a master at capturing the import of the ordinary.

An amazing gift of Ms. Ferber is that she can skip over years, sometimes decades of time so smoothly in her novels. She sets up a rhythm of life in a deceptively casual manner so that when the next chapter turns out to be ten or twenty years hence, the reader doesn't feel a jolt as if they have missed anything. 

One could say that nothing really happens in this novel. Perhaps. But nothing happens in a way that is a delight to read.


  1. I like books that are just about life. When they are well written, they feel real, and you get to care about the characters. I think I've read some of Edna's short stories in times past, so I'll have to look into more of her works.

  2. Well, hot dog! I just returned from a used book sale where I actually found a copy of So Big. And it appears to be an early edition, too. Sometimes I'm just lucky.

  3. I think future generations will have their own 'daily toil' tasks. True, we're not milking cows and chopping firewood or hauling coal like our ancestors, but the 'modern labor saving devices' (i.e. dish washer, clothes washer, etc.) have just focused our energies elsewhere. True, laundry isn't an all-day adventure, but now it's pushing 0s and 1s around for health insurance. Future generations? Even with Jetsons-like technologies, I bet they'll still be laboring at Spacely's Sprockets or the like. Just my $0.02.

    -Dr. Liz, who can't concentrate as the construction on the floor above is Driving. Me. Crazy.